Tropical Storm Debby Threatening Gulf Coast

By: CNN (posted by Justin Surrency) Email
By: CNN (posted by Justin Surrency) Email

CNN-Tropical Storm Debby crept up the Gulf of Mexico early Sunday, threatening to bring flooding and tornadoes to parts of the Gulf coast.

As of 7 a.m. (8 a.m. ET), Debby was about 170 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. The storm carried maximum sustained winds of 60 mph as it chugged north at 2 mph.

Tropical storm warnings were in effect for coastal Louisiana from the mouth of the Pearl River westward to Morgan City, the weather agency said, and from the Mississippi-Alabama border eastward to Florida's Ochlockonee River. New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain are not included in the warning area.

A tropical storm warning means that tropical storm conditions, including sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph, are expected in the warning area within 36 hours, said CNN meteorologist Bonnie Schneider.

"If you are under this warning, take your precautions now," she said. "Tie down or bring inside any furniture, toys or decorations you keep outside. They may blow about in strong winds and cause damage or injuries.

"If you are in a low-lying area at risk for flooding, know the best route to higher ground where you live," Schneider said, and stay abreast of local weather warnings.

"The combination of a storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters," the hurricane center said. Floodwaters in parts of coastal Mississippi and Louisiana could reach 2 to 4 feet deep; in Florida's Apalachee Bay, waters could reach 3 to 5 feet.

Debby is also expected to dump 3 to 6 inches of rain from southern Louisiana to the Florida panhandle, with up 10 inches in isolated areas, the weather agency said.

In addition, "isolated tornadoes are possible" over parts of west-central and southwestern Florida on Sunday.

Some adventure-seekers took advantage of high winds and large waves along the shore as Debby approached. A CNN iReporter sent a picture Sunday of a kite surfer on Grayton Beach, Florida.

The forecast track shows Debby nearing the Louisiana coast and developing into a hurricane by early Wednesday, but staying away from the shore and heading west toward coastal Texas.

Nine oil and gas production platforms have been evacuated, equivalent to 1.5% of the 596 manned platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, the federal government said Saturday. One of 70 rigs was evacuated.

Plaquemines Parish, on the southern tip of Louisiana, planned to declare a state of emergency Sunday, said emergency preparedness director Guy Laigast.

The parish expects a slow rise of water pushed by the winds. Crews will place sand bags along a back levee in Myrtle Grove, Laigast said. Louisiana Highway 23, a main road in the parish, could be affected.

St. Mary Parish planned Monday to place warning signs at two communities built at sea level, said Duval Arthur, director of emergency preparedness. "We're anticipating a 3- to 4-foot high tide. Water would be over the road in those areas."

Charles Roeseler, meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Houston-Galveston office, said Saturday that Debby "could really go in a number of directions" -- Florida, Louisiana and Texas. "It would be a welcome rain" in Texas, he said.

The storm is expected to strengthen over the next two days, the hurricane center said Sunday.

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