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Tropical Storm Lee forms in Gulf of Mexico; US states declare emergency near coast
NEW ORLEANS (AP) ' Tropical Storm Lee formed in the waters off Louisiana on Friday, threatening a drenching along much of the Gulf coast over the Labor Day weekend with up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) of rain in some spots.
Mississippi's governor declared a state of emergency in seven counties on or near the coast, saying the storm is expected to cause tremendous flooding. A state of emergency frees up resources that can be used to prepare for a storm, and Louisiana's governor declared one Thursday because of the threat of flash flooding. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu also declared a state of emergency for the city on Friday.
Lee could unleash "efficient and torrential topical rains" for the next several days, the National Weather Service said.
In the French Quarter, some tourists were caught off guard by the storm as it rained off and on.
"I didn't even know about it," said Kyla Holley, visiting from Madison, Wisconsin, some 900 miles (1450 kilometers) north. "But it wouldn't have stopped us from coming."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates major flood control structures at New Orleans, was monitoring developments but didn't plan on closing any flood control structures yet, spokesman Ricky Boyett said in an email.
Tropical storm warnings were in effect from Mississippi to Texas, including New Orleans, and flash flood warnings extended along the Alabama coast into the Florida Panhandle.
The storm also has cut off nearly half the normal oil production from the Gulf of Mexico's U.S. waters. The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement said Friday that 169 of the 617 manned production platforms in the Gulf have been evacuated, along with 16 of the 62 drilling rigs now operating in the Gulf. The evacuations have resulted in the shut-off of 47.6 percent of the Gulf's daily normal oil production and 33 percent of the normal daily natural gas production.
The water-logged storm is tantalizingly close to Texas but still too far away to alleviate the state's worst drought since the 1950s.
Lee is the 12th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season.
Storm watchers were also monitoring Hurricane Katia, spinning in open waters 705 miles (1,134 kilometers) east of the Leeward Islands and moving west-northwest at 14 mph (23 kph). It regained hurricane strength with maximum sustained winds Friday of 75 mph (121 kph) on Friday.
Forecasters said it would continue to grow stronger. It is expected to pass north of the Caribbean but the hurricane center said it was too early to tell if Katia will hit the U.S.
There was also a slow-moving low pressure system about 450 miles south of Halifax, Nova Scotia, that had a 60 percent chance Friday of becoming a tropical cyclone in the next two days.
The disturbances come on the heels of Hurricane Irene, which brought destruction from North Carolina to New England in late August.