Tropical Storm Karen weakens as it nears U.S. Gulf Coast

Reuters

* Storm weakens, not expected to become a hurricane

* Chevron sends workers back to platform

* Path of storm shifts to northeast

By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS, Oct 5 (Reuters) - A weakened Tropical StormKaren stalled off the Louisiana coast on Saturday after earlierfears that it would reach hurricane strength prompted theevacuation of some low-lying coastal areas and disrupted U.S.energy output in the Gulf of Mexico.

Karen's top winds dropped to 40 mph (65 kph), down from 65mph (105 kph) on Thursday and 50 mph (80 kph) on Friday, andNational Hurricane Center forecasters in Miami said they nolonger expected it to gain strength over the weekend, keeping ita weak tropical storm.

The storm had stalled in the Gulf of Mexico by midmorning onSaturday, the latest National Hurricane Center update said.

Originally forecast to become a hurricane, authoritiesissued mandatory evacuation orders for low-lying areas south ofNew Orleans on Friday.

Chevron Corp said on Saturday it was sending workersback out to oil platforms in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, a sign theworst of the storm had already passed deepwater areas of thebasin. They were evacuated earlier this week.

Tropical storm watches and warnings were still in effect inother areas including metropolitan New Orleans and LakePontchartrain. Tropical storms carry winds of 39 mph to 73 mph(63 kph to 118 kph).

The governors of Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabamadeclared states of emergency to speed storm preparations and theFederal Emergency Management Agency recalled some workers whowere furloughed in the federal government shutdown to assist.

Oil output in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico was cut in half as oiland gas firms shut platforms and evacuated some workers inpreparation for the storm. The Gulf accounts for about 19percent of U.S. oil production and 6 percent of natural gasoutput.

By early Saturday, the storm was centered about 185 miles(295 km) southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River.Karen's projected path shifted slightly to the northeast bymidmorning on Saturday and was projected to move ashore oversoutheastern Louisiana Saturday night and early Sunday and passnear the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama on Sunday.

The storm could dump up to 6 inches (15 cm) of rain in someareas and to push a surge of seawater over the shoreline, thehurricane center said.

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