By Kevin McGill
NEW ORLEANS: A weak Tropical Storm Karen stalled Saturday off the Louisiana coast, but the National Weather Service said the storm was still expected to move eastward today.
Karen remains a threat to bring strong wind and heavy rain to southeast Louisiana’s coast.
The storm’s center was expected to move over or near southeast Louisiana on Saturday night or this morning. Then it was forecast to move south of the Gulf Coast from Alabama to the Florida Panhandle tonight and Monday.
The storm was expected to weaken to a tropical depression today.
Evacuation advisories and orders remained in effect for Louisiana’s low-lying areas such as the barrier island town of Grand Isle.
The National Weather Service said storm surges of 1-to-3 feet were possible along the southeast Louisiana and Mississippi coast, with rainfall accumulations of up to 3 inches — 6 inches in isolated areas — along various spots on the central Gulf Coast.
In low-lying Plaquemines Parish, La., officials changed an evacuation order from mandatory to voluntary Saturday afternoon. More than 80 evacuees from the area, at the state’s southeastern tip, had taken refuge at a public shelter, which would remain open Saturday.
They gathered in an auditorium where they rested on cots, watched for weather updates on TV and chatted outside on the front steps.
“I don’t really know what to expect, but they told us to evacuate, so we got out,” said Dana Etienne, 27, of Phoenix, La., who was at the shelter with her three young children.
Ahead of the storm, squalls of rain hit workers sandbagging low sections of the flood-prone town of Lafitte, La., along Bayou Barataria.
“We have a high tide, but we only have another 15-17 hours to worry about, and I don’t think the tide will come up much more in that time,” Mayor Timothy Kerner said. “It looks like it might come up another foot or two, but I think we’re going to be OK.”
Coastal authorities closed flood gates along waterways that could be affected by tides driven by the storm. In New Orleans, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continued closing barriers designed to keep surge out of the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal — scene of catastrophic flooding in 2005 when flood walls failed during Hurricane Katrina.
Col. Richard Hansen of the corps said more gates along various canals could be closed, and warned boaters not to get caught on the wrong side of those gates “If there is a gate in the system, it may not be open when you decide to come back in,” Hansen said. “So it’s time to pull your boats out of the water and quit fishing.”
At the Port of New Orleans, officials working with the Coast Guard said they were optimistic that vessel traffic at the mouth of the Mississippi River, halted since Friday morning, would resume today. The port remained busy, officials said in a news release. Two Carnival cruise ships that had to delay weekend arrivals were expected Monday.