In the French Quarter near Bourbon Street, Jimmy Maiuri stepped outside his second-floor apartment to shoot video. Maiuri, who fled from Katrina at the last minute, stayed behind this time and had no regrets, though he was amazed at the storm's timing.
“It's definitely not one to take lightly, but it's not Katrina,” he said. “No one is going to forget Aug. 29 forever, not here at least.”
As hard wind and heavy rain pelted Melba Leggett-Barnes' home in the Lower 9th Ward, an area leveled during Katrina, she felt more secure than she did seven years ago.
“I have a hurricane house this time,” said Barnes, who has been living in her newly rebuilt since 2008. She and her husband, Baxter Barnes, were among the first to get a home through Brad Pitt's Make It Right program.
Her yellow house with a large porch and iron trellis was taking a beating, but holding strong. “I don't have power, but I'm all right,” said Barnes, 56, a cafeteria worker for the New Orleans school system.
In Mississippi, the main highway that runs along the Gulf, U.S. 90, was closed in sections by storm surge flooding. At one spot in Biloxi, a foot of water covered the highway for a couple of blocks, and it looked like more was coming in. High tide was likely to bring more water.
In Pass Christian, a Mississippi coastal community wiped out by hurricanes Camille and Katrina, Mayor Chipper McDermott was optimistic Isaac would not deal a heavy blow.
“It's not too bad, but the whole coast is going to be a mess,” he said.
McDermott stood on the porch of the $6 million municipal complex built after Katrina, with walls of 12-inch-thick concrete to withstand hurricane winds. As he looked out toward the Gulf of Mexico, pieces of a structure that had stood atop the city's fishing pier washed across the parking lot.
Tens of thousands of people had been told ahead of Isaac to leave low-lying areas of Mississippi and Louisiana, including 700 patients of Louisiana nursing homes. Mississippi shut down the state's 12 storefront casinos.
The hurricane also canceled commemoration ceremonies Wednesday for Katrina's 1,800 dead in Louisiana and Mississippi.
The storm drew attention because of its timing — coinciding with the Katrina anniversary and the first major speeches of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
Isaac promised to test a New Orleans levee system bolstered by $14 billion in federal repairs and improvements after the catastrophic failures during Katrina. But in a city that has already weathered Hurricane Gustav in 2008.
Isaac also posed political challenges with echoes of those that followed Katrina, a reminder of how the storm became a symbol of government ineptitude.
President Barack Obama sought to demonstrate his ability to guide the nation through a natural disaster, and Republicans tried to reassure residents as they formally nominated former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as their presidential candidate.
There was already simmering political fallout from the storm. Louisiana's Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who canceled his trip to the convention in Tampa, said the Obama administration's disaster declaration fell short of the federal help he had requested. Jindal said he wanted a promise from the federal government to be reimbursed for storm preparation costs.
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said such requests would be addressed after the storm.
Along the GulfCoast east of New Orleans, veterans of past hurricanes made sure to take precautions.
Bonnie Schertler of Waveland, Miss., lost her home during Katrina. After hearing forecasts that Isaac could get stronger and stall, she decided to evacuate to her father's home in Red Level, Ala.
A slow storm can cause “a lot more havoc,” she said, “because it can knock down just virtually everything” if it hovers long enough.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Brian Schwaner and Cain Burdeau in New Orleans; Kevin McGill in Houma, La.; Holbrook Mohr in Waveland and Pass Christian, Miss.; Jeff Amy in Biloxi and Gulfport, Miss.; Jay Reeves in Gulf Shores, Ala.; Jessica Gresko in Mobile, Ala.; and Curt Anderson at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.