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STORM WATCH: Isaac Gaining Strength In The Gulf Of Mexico; Flights To New Orleans Canceled

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MIAMI (AP) - Tropical Storm Isaac is gaining strength as it gets closer to predicted landfall along the northern Gulf Coast.
    
At 5 p.m. Monday, the National Hurricane Center reported that Isaac's top sustained winds had reached 70 mph (113 kph). A tropical system becomes a Category 1 hurricane once winds reach 74 mph (119 kph).
    
A hurricane warning is in effect from Morgan City, La., to the Alabama-Florida line. East of the state line to Destin, Fla., hurricane forecasters have now posted a tropical storm warning.
    
The storm's center was located about 255 miles (415 km) southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and is moving northwest at 12 mph (19kph). Isaac was expected to make landfall as early as Tuesday, possibly in Louisiana south of New Orleans.
    
Storm surge is considered a major threat.

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NEW YORK (AP) - Several airlines are canceling all of their New Orleans flights in anticipation of hurricane winds and rain from Isaac.
    
American Airlines, Southwest and United are all suspending operations in the city. The move comes after large cancellations in Southern Florida Sunday due to Tropical Storm Isaac.
    
The storm is over the Gulf of Mexico. It is expected to grow into a Category 1 hurricane and hit land late Tuesday night. A Category 1 hurricane has winds ranging from 74 mph to 95 mph.
    
Southwest canceled 80 flights on Tuesday to and from New Orleans. Three additional flights were added Monday night to help accommodate passengers on the canceled flights. The airline will make a decision about Wednesday's flights late Monday night or early Tuesday morning, according to spokeswoman Ashley Dillon.
    
Each Southwest plane on that route holds 137 passengers.
    
United Airlines, part of United Continental Holdings Inc., has canceled all of its flights for Tuesday and Wednesday. It has 40 flights a day in and out of the airport, according to spokesman Joe Micucci.
    
American Airlines, part of AMR Corp., has canceled all of its flights until Thursday morning. But the airline was frustrated with New Orleans airport executives, who it said shut the facility prematurely.
    
"We could have kept flying for a big chunk of Tuesday, but you can't land at a closed airport," spokesman Ed Martelle said via e-mail. The airline planned for its last flight out to be a 7:45 p.m. Monday.
    
Iftikhar Ahmad, executive director of Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, said at a midday news conference Monday that the three airlines "will run today but are canceling tomorrow." He was not immediately available for clarification about who made the final call to cancel flights. The airport was also reminding people that it is not an evacuation shelter and has restricted parking at its garages to ticketed passengers.
    
The airport handles about 10,000 passengers a day in August.
    
Airlines typically move planes out of a storm's path to protect them and ensure a faster return to service. However, they like to wait until the last possible moment to cancel flights.
    
While New Orleans is preparing for the worst, airports in Florida were returning to normal operations Monday. More than 400 flights were canceled at U.S. airports on Monday, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware. That was down from nearly 860 on Sunday. More than half of the cancellations Sunday were American Airlines flights, according to FlightAware. The airline runs a major hub at Miami International Airport.
    
Airlines are also canceling flights to Pensacola, Fla. and Mobile, Ala. Those airports are tiny compared with Miami, which is a major gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean. Compared with New Orleans, more than five times the passengers pass through Miami on a given day.
    
All airlines will waive change fees for passengers wishing to move their flight into or out of an affected city to another date. They are also offering refunds to passengers whose flights have been canceled. The specific policies can be found on each airline's website.
    
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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