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Tropical Storm Lee lurches ashore in US south, dumping heavy rain amid flood threat
JEAN LAFITTE, Louisiana (AP) ' The center of Tropical Storm Lee lurched across Louisiana's Gulf Coast early Sunday, dumping torrential rains that threatened flooding in low-lying communities in a foreshadowing of what cities further inland could face in coming days.
At 5 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT), Lee had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It says Lee is crawling to the north at 2 mph (4 kph). Forecasters say a slow northeastward motion is expected as it treks 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.
No injuries were reported, but there were scattered instances of water entering low-lying homes and businesses in Louisiana. Thousands were without power.
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.
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, National Weather Service forecaster Robert Ricks said.
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.
Elsewhere, Tropical Storm Katia is moving across open ocean and is forecast to regain hurricane strength during the day. At 5 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT) Sunday, Katia's center was about 370 miles (600 kilometers) northeast of the Northern Leeward Islands. The Miami-based hurricane center says Katia had top sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph). The storm was moving at 12 mph (19 kph) and no immediate coastal watches or warnings were in effect.
Forecasters say Katia is expected to continue moving toward the northwest in the coming days and some strengthening is expected in the next 48 hours. Tropical storm force winds extend outward from Katia's center about 175 miles (280 kilometers).