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Gulf Coast states brace for Tropical Storm Karen

This NOAA satellite image taken Thursday 01:45 p.m. EDT shows a mass of clouds over the south central Gulf of Mexico associated with Tropical Storm Karen, which is moving to the North-Northwest. Scattered clouds with some rain showers and thunderstorms are occurring over the Ohio Valley and western Great Lakes regions into the Upper and Middle Mississippi Valleys. Otherwise, scattered clouds exist for much of the region, excluding the Northeast US, where mostly clear skies are in control. AP photo

This NOAA satellite image taken Thursday 01:45 p.m. EDT shows a mass of clouds over the south central Gulf of Mexico associated with Tropical Storm Karen, which is moving to the North-Northwest. Scattered clouds with some rain showers and thunderstorms are occurring over the Ohio Valley and western Great Lakes regions into the Upper and Middle Mississippi Valleys. Otherwise, scattered clouds exist for much of the region, excluding the Northeast US, where mostly clear skies are in control. AP photo

NEW ORLEANS — From a tiny, vulnerable island off the Louisiana coast to the beaches of the Florida Panhandle, Gulf Coast residents prepared Thursday for a possible hit from Tropical Storm Karen, which threatened to become the first named tropical system to menace the United States this year.

Karen was forecast to lash the northern Gulf Coast over the weekend as a weak hurricane or tropical storm. A hurricane watch was in effect from Grand Isle, La., to west of Destin, Fla. A tropical storm warning was issued for the Louisiana coast from Grand Isle to the mouth of the Pearl River, including the New Orleans area.

In Alabama, safety workers hoisted double red flags at Gulf Shores because of treacherous rip currents ahead of the storm.

In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency, urging residents to prepare. State Emergency Management Agency Director Robert Latham said local schools will decide whether to play football games. He said the southern part of the state could have tropical storm-force winds by late today.

“I know that Friday night football in the South is a big thing, but I don’t think anybody wants to risk a life because of the potential winds,” Latham said.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal also declared a state of emergency, citing the possibility of high winds, heavy rain and tides. Florida Gov. Rick Scott also declared an emergency for 18 counties.

Mayor David Camardelle of Grand Isle, La., an inhabited barrier island and tourist town about 60 miles south of New Orleans, called for voluntary evacuations as he declared an emergency Thursday afternoon.

Louis-iana officials were taking precautions while noting that forecasts show the storm veering to the east. The storm track had it likely brushing the southeastern tip of the state before heading toward the Alabama-Florida coast.

“It should make that fork right and move out very, very quickly,” said Jerry Sneed, head of New Orleans’ emergency preparedness office.

Offshore, at least two oil companies said they were evacuating non-essential personnel and securing rigs and platforms.

In Washington, the White House said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was recalling some workers furloughed due to the government shutdown to prepare for the storm.

Hundreds of thousands of federal workers have been furloughed under the partial government shutdown. It’s unclear how many FEMA workers are being brought back.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Karen was about 360 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River Thursday evening and had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph with higher gusts. The storm was moving north-northwest at 12 mph. It could be at or near hurricane strength late today and early Saturday, forecasters said, with the center near the coast on Saturday.

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