Evacuations ordered as Tropical Storm Karen nears U.S. coast

Reuters

* Storm is no longer expected to become a hurricane

* Karen halts half of oil output in U.S. Gulf

By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS, Oct 4 (Reuters) - Authorities issued mandatoryevacuation orders for low-lying areas south of New Orleans onFriday as a weakened Tropical Storm Karen closed in on theLouisiana coast after disrupting U.S. energy output in the Gulfof Mexico.

Karen's top winds were holding at 50 mph (85 kph), down from65 mph (105 kph) a day earlier, and National Hurricane Centerforecasters in Miami said the storm was expected to strengthensomewhat but remain a tropical storm.

Oil output in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico had been cut in halfas oil and gas firms shut platforms and evacuated some workersin preparation for the storm. The Gulf accounts for about 19percent of U.S. oil production and 6 percent of natural gasoutput.

The mayor of Grand Isle, Louisiana, clamped a mandatoryevacuation on the popular vacation and fishing destination on abarrier island south of New Orleans. Evacuations were alsoordered in Lafourche Parish in the south, and residents in muchof Plaquemines Parish, southeast of New Orleans, were told to beout of their homes before nightfall.

The Sand Dollar Motel and Marina on Grand Isle was a frenzyof activity on Friday as boaters scrambled to get their vesselsto higher ground and marina employees secured the premises.

"It's already pouring here and the wind is real strong,"said marina owner Susan Gaspard, who added that squalls had beenhitting all morning.

Karen's projected path shifted slightly westward and it wasexpected to move ashore over Louisiana on Saturday night andinto Mississippi and then Alabama on Sunday.

By late Friday afternoon, the storm was centered about 235miles (375 km) south-southwest of the mouth of the MississippiRiver. It was moving north-northwest but was forecast to turn tothe northeast as it crossed the coast.

At the Port of New Orleans, cargo operations continuednormally but the harbor pilots who guide ships through the mouthof the Mississippi had ceased operations.

"No ships are coming in or out the mouth of the river," saidport spokesman Matt Gresham.

Carnival Cruise Line officials announced that two ships thathad been due to arrive in New Orleans over the weekend, theCarnival Elation and Carnival Conquest, could be delayed untilMonday. Guests onboard were being kept apprised and the shipswere sailing at a safe and comfortable distance from the storm,the company said.

'GOOD SQUALL'

The governors of Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabamadeclared states of emergency to speed storm preparations and theFederal Emergency Management Agency recalled some furloughedworkers to assist.

The storm was expected to dump up to 6 inches (15 cm) ofrain in its path and to push a surge of seawater over theshoreline, the hurricane center said.

"The tide's already high, so we know we will get water.We're just trying to put everything up as high as we can," saidGaspard on Grand Isle.

Ralph Atkins, owner of Southern Fish & Oyster Co on adowntown dock in Mobile, Alabama, said he expected to see a"good squall" from Karen but nothing he couldn't deal with.

"Our big trouble is water. Water can build up and make itbad," Atkins said. "It's just another day in the fish business.Nature just needs to take a bath every now and then," he added.

At Alabama's Grand Mariner Marina on Dog River and MobileBay, boaters were tying down the larger vessels with doubleropes and putting the smaller ones on trailers to haul them upthe river to sheltered coves.

"It's like New York City at lunch time here. We are reallybusy," said marina manager Steve Penny. "We are doing everythingwe can to make room for 4 to 6 feet of water. Anything we canmove, we get out."

Marina workers were adding fuel to their 8,000-gallon(30,280-liter) tanks to weigh them down and keep them fromfloating away.

A hurricane watch for the coast from Grand Isle, Louisiana,to Destin, Florida was dropped. Tropical storm watches andwarnings were still in effect in other areas includingmetropolitan New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain. Tropical stormscarry winds of 39 mph to 73 mph (63 kph to 118 kph).

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