The Associated Press

MIAMI (AP) -- Hurricane warnings have been issued for an area stretching from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle as Isaac churns toward the Gulf Coast.

The warnings stretched from east of Morgan City, La. - which includes the New Orleans area - to Destin, Fla.

Isaac lashed the Florida Keys as a tropical storm on Sunday, bringing rain and strong winds. But residents for the most part took it in stride. However, preparations have begun farther north as forecasters warn Isaac could be a strong Category 2 hurricane by the time it reaches the Gulf Coast.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami says Isaac is expected to hit somewhere between southeastern Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle either late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

ORIGINAL AP STORY BELOW:

KEY WEST, Fla. -- Tropical Storm Isaac started pelting the Florida Keys with rain and strong winds on Sunday, and it could strengthen into a dangerous hurricane by the time it starts hitting the northern Gulf Coast in the coming days.

Exactly where Isaac would hit once it passed the Keys remained highly uncertain, with forecasters saying hurricane conditions could reach anywhere from the New Orleans metro area to the Florida Panhandle by Tuesday. And the storm is large: tropical storm conditions extend more than 200 miles from the storm's center, meaning Isaac could cause significant damage even in places where it does not pass directly overhead.

Isaac has brought havoc to the Caribbean already, killing seven people in Haiti and downing trees and power lines in Cuba. And it had officials worried enough in Tampa that they shuffled around some plans for the Republican National Convention.

However, Isaac had yet to create a panic in South Florida, and it wasn't expected to become a hurricane by the time it passed over the Florida Keys. In Miami Shores, some residents said they hadn't even put up storm shutters. Edwin Reeder, 65, stopped by a gas station to pick up some drinks and snacks. He didn't bother topping off his car's half-full fuel tank.

Reeder said he hadn't put up storm shutters, instead just clearing his gutters so all the water could drain. And while he didn't stock up on canned goods for himself, he did buy some extra cat and dog food for his pets.

"This isn't a storm," he said. "It's a rain storm."

On Key West, locals followed time-worn storm preparedness rituals while awaiting the storm after Isaac swamped the Caribbean and shuffled plans for the Republican National Convention. Hundreds of flights were canceled Sunday as the storm bore down.

A steady line of cars moved north Saturday along the Overseas Highway, the only road linking the Florida Keys. Residents boarded up windows, laid down sandbags and shuttered businesses ahead of the approaching storm. Even Duval Street, Key West's storied main drag, was subdued for a weekend, though not enough to stop music from playing or drinks from being poured.

"We'll just catch every place that's open," said Ted Lamarche, a 48-year-old pizzeria owner visiting Key West to celebrate his anniversary with his wife, Deanna. They walked along on Duval Street, where a smattering of people still wandered even as many storefronts were boarded up and tourists sported ponchos and yellow slickers.

"Category None!" one man shouted in a show of optimism.

The Keys were bracing storm surge of up to 4 feet, strong winds and the possibility of tornadoes. The island chain's two airports closed Saturday night, and volunteers and some residents began filing into shelters.

"This is a huge inconvenience," said Dale Shelton, a 57-year-old retiree in Key West who was staying in a shelter.

Isaac has already left a trail of suffering across the Caribbean.

At least seven people were reported dead in Haiti, including a 10-year-old girl who had a wall fall on her, according to the country's Civil Protection Office. The government also reported "considerable damage" to agriculture and homes. Nearly 8,000 people were evacuated from their houses or earthquake shelters and more than 4,000 were taken to temporary shelters.

The Grise River in Haiti overflowed north of Port-au-Prince, sending chocolate-brown water spilling through the sprawling shantytown of Cite Soleil, where many people grabbed what possessions they could and carried them on their heads, wading through waist-deep water.

After Isaac passes the Keys, it will move over the warm, open waters of the Gulf of Mexico and is expected to gain significant strength. It could ultimately make landfall on the northern Gulf Coast late Tuesday or early Wednesday. However, forecasters have stressed that the storm's exact path remains highly uncertain.

"Definitely the northern Gulf Coast should be preparing for a hurricane right now," Jessica Schauer, a meteorologist with the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami, told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

Isaac isn't likely to hit Tampa head-on, but it could still lash the city with rain and strong winds just as the convention ramps up. A tropical storm warning is in effect for parts of Florida's west coast, including Tampa Bay.

Convention officials said they would meet briefly on Monday, then immediately recess until Tuesday afternoon, when the storm is expected to have passed. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, declared a state of emergency and canceled his plans to attend convention events on Sunday and Monday.

As of 8 a.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Key West, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. Isaac had top sustained winds of 60 mph (97 kph).

It was moving to the west-northwest toward the Keys at 18 mph (29 kph).

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Associated Press writers Suzette Laboy in Miami Shores; Bill Barrow in Tampa; Trenton Daniel and Evens Sanon in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Peter Orsi and Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana; Fernando Gonzalez in Baracoa, Cuba; and Ezequiel Abiu Lopez in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, contributed to this report.

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  • Heather Boss, right, and Brittney Lambert, both of Oklahoma, have fun in a flooded street due to heavy rains in Key West, Fla., Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012 as heavy storm winds and rain hit the northern coast. Rain bands from Tropical Storm Isaac are expected to continue streaming across Marion County Monday as the ninth named storm of the 2012 hurricane season continues toward the northern Gulf of Mexico. National Weather Service officials in Jacksonville on Sunday said Marion County began getting rain bands from Isaac around 2 p.m. and that the rain would continue through Tuesday. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

  • Victoria Balladares and boyfriend Jose Requejo experience the rain at Miami Beach as Tropical Storm Isaac hits the area on Sunday, Aug., 26, 2012, in Miami. Isaac gained fresh muscle Sunday as it bore down on the Florida Keys, with forecasters warning it could grow into a dangerous Category 2 hurricane as it nears the northern Gulf Coast. (AP Photo/The Miami Herald, Carl Juste)

  • Anton Snitgen, Jenna Curl, Jackie Curl and Michael Manemut run along a dock at Key West Bight Marina in Key West, Fla., as Tropical Storm Isaac hits the area on Sunday, Aug., 26, 2012. Isaac gained fresh muscle Sunday as it bore down on the Florida Keys, with forecasters warning it could grow into a dangerous Category 2 hurricane as it nears the northern Gulf Coast. (AP Photo/The Miami Herald, Walter Michot)

  • A man walks on the beach in Key West, Fla., Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012 as heavy winds hit the northern coast from Tropical Storm Isaac. Isaac is expected to continue streaming across Marion County Monday as it continues toward the northern Gulf of Mexico. National Weather Service officials in Jacksonville on Sunday said Marion County began getting rain bands from Isaac around 2 p.m. and that the rain would continue through Tuesday. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

  • A person braves the rain at Clarence Higgs Beach in Key West, Fla., as Tropical Storm Isaac hits the area on Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012. Isaac gained fresh muscle Sunday as it bore down on the Florida Keys, with forecasters warning it could grow into a dangerous Category 2 hurricane as it nears the northern Gulf Coast. (AP Photo/The Miami Herald, Walter Michot)

  • Folko Weltzien, 38, kite surfs as high winds from Hurricane Isaac gusts on Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012, in Miami. Isaac gained fresh muscle Sunday as it bore down on the Florida Keys, with forecasters warning it could grow into a dangerous Category 2 hurricane as it nears the northern Gulf Coast. (AP Photo/The Miami Herald, Carl Juste)

  • Heavy storm clouds hover over the skyline of downtown Miami as Tropical Storm Isaac's weather bands reach the Miami area aon Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012. Isaac gained fresh muscle Sunday as it bore down on the Florida Keys, with forecasters warning it could grow into a dangerous Category 2 hurricane as it nears the northern Gulf Coast. (AP Photo/The Miami Herald, Carl Juste)

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  • A cyclist rides his bike in Key West, Fla., Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012. Tropical Storm Isaac gained fresh muscle Sunday as it bore down on the Florida Keys, with forecasters warning it could grow into a dangerous Category 2 hurricane as it nears the northern Gulf Coast. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

  • A person walks by a sign warning about Hurricane Isaac, in Key West, Fla., Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012. Isaac gained fresh muscle Sunday as it bore down on the Florida Keys, with forecasters warning it could grow into a dangerous Category 2 hurricane as it nears the northern Gulf Coast. (Alan Diaz)

  • Shira Edllan Gervasi, of Israel, puts her name on plywood protecting a storefront in Key West, Fla., in anticipation of Tropical Storm Isaac on Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012. Isaac's winds are expected to be felt in the Florida Keys by sunrise Sunday morning. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

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    MARATHON, FL - AUGUST 26: A man rides his bike along Overseas Highway as Tropical Storm Isaac begins to move toward the Florida Keys on August 26, 2012 in Islamorada, Florida. According to reports, Isaac has become stronger as it moves toward the Florida Keys and forecasters say it could strengthen into a Category 2 storm. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

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    MARATHON, FL - AUGUST 26: People ride bikes as as Tropical Storm Isaac begins to move ashore on August 26, 2012 in Marathon, Florida. According to reports, Isaac has become stronger as it moves toward the Florida Keys and forecasters say it could strengthen into a Category 2 storm. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

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    KEY WEST, FL - AUGUST 25: Two girls enter a K-Mart store on August 25, 2012 in Key West, Florida. Residents in the Florida Keys are preparing after a Hurricane Warning was issued as Tropical Storm Isaac tracks north. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

  • Craig Jones, left, and Kimberly Branson secure their boat in Key West, Fla., Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012 in preparation for Tropical Storm Isaac. Tropical Storm Isaac gained fresh muscle Sunday as it bore down on the Florida Keys, with forecasters warning it could grow into a dangerous Category 2 hurricane as it nears the northern Gulf Coast. (Alan Diaz)

  • The southernmost point marker is covered in plastic sheeting in Key West, Fla., Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012, in preparation for Tropical Storm Isaac, Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012. Isaac's winds are expected to be felt in the Florida Keys by sunrise Sunday morning. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

  • Richie Moretti, left, and Bette Zirkelback release a kemps ridley turtle into an indoor tank in Marathon, Fla., Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012 . The turtles were moved from outside tanks to safer indoor tanks for protection in anticipation of Tropical Storm Isaac, Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012. Isaac's winds are expected to be felt in the Florida Keys by sunrise Sunday morning. (Alan Diaz)

  • Dale Shelton waits to be taken to a shelter in Key West, Fla., Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012, as he prepares for the arrival of Tropical Storm Isaac, Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012. Isaac's winds are expected to be felt in the Florida Keys by sunrise Sunday morning. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

  • A houseboat is towed in the middle keys as the Florida Keys prepare for Tropical Storm Isaac, Saturday, Aug 25, 2012. Florida Gov. Rick Scott had declared a state of emergency and a hurricane warning has been issued for the Florida Keys, as officials warn tourists to leave. (AP Photo/The Miami Herald, Walter Michot)

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    KEY WEST, FL - AUGUST 25: Cars leave the Lower Keys on August 25, 2012 in Key West, Florida. Residents in the Florida Keys are preparing after a Hurricane Warning was issued as Tropical Storm Isaac tracks north. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

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    ISLAMORADA, FL - AUGUST 25: A man secures his boat as the Florida Keys are under a Hurricane Warning as Tropical Storm Isaac tracks North on August 25, 2012 in Islamorada, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

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    MARATHON, FL - AUGUST 25: People enter a store whie the Florida Keys are under a Hurricane Warning as Tropical Storm Isaac tracks North on August 25, 2012 in Marathon, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

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  • Cheri Senecal walks with a bag of personal items to a shelter in Key West, Fla., Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012 as she prepares for Tropical Storm Isaac, Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012. Isaac's winds are expected to be felt in the Florida Keys by sunrise Sunday morning. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

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  • In this photo provided by Florida Power & Light Company, line specialist Dustin Pezet works to restore power as Tropical Storm Isaac strikes in Miami on Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012. Isaac gained fresh muscle Sunday as it bore down on the Florida Keys, with forecasters warning it could grow into a dangerous Category 2 hurricane as it nears the northern Gulf Coast. (AP Photo/Florida Power & Light Company, David Adame)

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