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Lee reported very near south US coast, bit weaker
Hurricane Center says Tropical Storm Lee is very near southern La. coast and now a bit weaker
By The Associated Press

MIAMI (AP) ' The National Hurricane Center says Tropical Storm Lee is swirling very near the southern Louisiana coastline and is now a bit weaker even as it dumps heavy rain.

The Miami center said at 2 a.m. EDT (0600 GMT) Sunday that Lee was about 60 miles (95 kilometers) southwest of Lafayette and had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kph). It says Lee is crawling to the north at 2 mph (4 kph).

Forecasters say a slow northeastward motion is expected in coming hours and Lee's center is expected to move onshore on the Louisiana coast in a few more hours before trekking slowly across southern Louisiana.

Lee is forecast to dump 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 centimeters) of rain in many areas in the coming days, and up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) in scattered spots.

The sluggish storm stalled just offshore for several hours Saturday before meandering to the north and west in the evening. Its center was expected to move onshore sometime Sunday.

No injuries were reported, but there were scattered instances of water entering low-lying homes and businesses in Louisiana.

Coffers were suffering at many coastal businesses that depend on a strong end-of-sumer weekend. Alabama beaches that would normally be packed were largely empty, and rough seas closed the Port of Mobile. Mississippi's coastal casinos, however, were open and reporting brisk business.

The Entergy utility company reported more than 37,000 customer outages at one point Saturday morning but that was down to below 18,000 by afternoon as the utility restored electricity. Cleco Corp., another major utility, reported 3,500 outages.

In New Orleans, sporadic downpours caused some street flooding in low-lying areas early Saturday, but pumps were sucking up the water and sending it into Lake Pontchartrain. Lee's surge so far had not penetrated levees along the coast, said National Weather Service forecaster Robert Ricks in Slidell, Louisiana.

The storm was denting offshore energy production. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement said 237 oil and gas production platforms and 23 drilling rigs have been evacuated by Lee. The agency estimates that about 60 percent of the current oil production in the Gulf and almost 55 percent of the natural gas production has been shut in.

In Alabama, rough seas forced the closure of the Port of Mobile. Pockets of heavy rain pounded the beaches Saturday, and strong winds whipped up the surf and bowed palm trees. But just a couple miles (kilometers) inland, wind and rain dropped significantly.

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