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Tropical Storm Lee weakens some, still promises heavy rain

September 4, 2011 |  8:28 am

Lee_Sunday
For the Gulf Coast, it will be another day of wet and worry.

Tropical Storm Lee was weakening somewhat as its center inched closer to the Louisiana coast Sunday morning, but officials warned that the gulf region continues to face a threat of flooding posed by heavy, extended bouts of rain.

At 7 a.m. CDT, Lee's center was over Vermilion Bay, to the west of New Orleans, and drifting northeast at about 3 mph, according to the National Weather Service. It was expected to move slowly over southern Louisiana on Sunday and Monday.

The tropical storm-force winds extend 275 miles out from the center of the storm. Maximum sustained winds were 45 mph, down from 60 mph recorded Saturday.

The gulf region has been pounded by rain bands through the weekend. On Saturday, the New Orleans area experienced thousands of power outages, but none of the catastrophic levee failures that unleashed floodwaters on the city after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In a Saturday afternoon news conference, however, Mayor Mitch Landrieu warned residents that the storm would pose potential dangers through the holiday weekend:

"We're not out of the woods," he said.

Officials were paying close attention to three small communities south of the city -- Jean Lafitte, Crown Point, and Barataria -- and outside of the regional levee protection system that were experiencing flooding from water that Lee had pushed in from the Gulf of Mexico.

Evacuation orders were issued for the communities Saturday, and officials were hoping to be out of danger by Sunday morning. But a call to the Jean Lafitte town hall suggested that the drama was not over.

"The water is still rising," Town Clerk Yvette Crain told a Times reporter. "It's still hard to tell."

Crain said she didn't have much time to elaborate: She had to report the new breach of a sand bag levee.

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--Richard Fausset

Photo: Alabama Department of Transportation road crews clear debris from the road to Dauphin Island, Ala., early Sunday. Tropical Storm Lee is continuing to meander along the Gulf Coast, bringing torrential rains and flooding. Credit: Dave Martin / Associated Press