GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) — Heavy rain and winds from fast-moving Tropical Storm Gordon began pelting the Gulf Coast on Tuesday evening as forecasters warned the storm could become the second hurricane to hit the region in less than a year.
Skies quickly turned dark gray as storms overshadowed the port city of Mobile, Alabama, just before nightfall. Metal chairs were lashed together atop tables outside a restaurant in what's normally a busy entertainment district, and a street musician played to an empty sidewalk as rain began falling. Forecasters said conditions would further deteriorate westward to New Orleans as the stormed neared shore.
Families along the coast filled sandbags, took patio furniture inside and stocked up on batteries and bottled water in the final hours before Gordon's expected landfall sometime Tuesday evening.
The staff at The Hotel Whiskey in Pass Christian, Mississippi, only about a block from the Gulf of Mexico, carried out their pre-storm preparation ritual. The hotel restaurant planned to stay open Tuesday evening as usual, fortified by sandbags to keep out torrential rains, the manager said.
Meanwhile, a few people remained on a Mississippi beach, soaking in the sun before the tropical rain bands became more numerous.
"All the outside furniture has to come in, but honestly it's not even a freak-out kind of hurricane, so we're not super-stressed right now," Ashley Peeples said.
Gulfport was providing sand and bags to residents, and Kenny Macdonald was filling them for himself and older residents.
"This is kind of routine to some degree," Macdonald said. "You don't know what the intensity of the storm is going to be. You don't want to take it lightly, of course."
A hurricane warning was in effect for the entire Mississippi and Alabama coasts with the possibility Gordon would become a Category 1 storm. The National Hurricane Center predicted a "life-threatening" storm surge of 3 to 5 feet (0.9 to 1.5 meters) along parts of the central Gulf Coast.
Flooding also was a risk. As much as 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain could fall in some parts of the Gulf states through late Thursday as the tropical weather moves inland toward Arkansas.
By Tuesday afternoon, the storm was centered 95 miles (155 kilometers) southeast of Biloxi, Mississippi, with top sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph). Forecasters said it was possible Gordon's winds might meet the 74 mph (120 kph) threshold to be a hurricane before making landfall later Tuesday.
The last hurricane to strike the U.S. was Nate last October, coming ashore in Biloxi with 75 mph (120 kph) winds.
Governors in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana all declared states of emergency to better mobilize state resources and National Guard troops for the storm. Mississippi shut down a dozen Gulf Coast casinos. Workers on at least 54 oil and gas production platforms were evacuated.
Gordon became a tropical storm Monday near the Florida Keys.
Mayors of barrier islands in the storm's path warned that their communities might get cut off from the mainland.
"When you get the higher waves, water starts splashing across. Sometimes it starts pushing not only water across but debris, logs and things of that nature, which makes it very treacherous to get across," said Jeff Collier, mayor of Dauphin Island, Alabama.
Gordon was poised for only a glancing blow to New Orleans, where Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the city has "the pumps and the power" needed to protect residents.
Authorities issued a voluntary evacuation order for areas outside the city's levee protection system.
L. J. Cazaux moved his boat to a nearby lot of elevated land before the rain started in one of the areas outside the protective system, Venetian Isles. He elevated his house off the ground after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and has food, water and two generators.
"You just blend it into your lifestyle when you live outside the levee system. You know you're going to flood before anyone else does. The good part about it is the water goes down faster here," said Cazaux, who has lived in the neighborhood for 15 years.
Gordon was not the only storm being watched by forecasters. Hurricane Florence was some 2,400 miles (3,900 kilometers) away from the U.S., and another potential storm was likely to form not far off the coast of Africa and head east.
The National Hurricane Center said it is way too early to know if either of those storms will have any impact on land.
"It's the peak of hurricane season. Now is the time to get your plans all set," Hurricane Director Ken Graham said.
McGill reported from Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Associated Press writers Jeff Martin and Ben Nadler in Atlanta; Jay Reeves in Dauphin Island, Alabama; Emily Wagster Pettus and Jeff Amy in Jackson, Mississippi; Kim Chandler in Montgomery, Alabama; Rebecca Santana in New Orleans; Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has signed a state of emergency ahead of the expected landfall of Tropical Storm Gordon.
Ivey's office says she signed the declaration Tuesday morning.
Gordon is expected to scrape the Alabama coast as it is makes landfall in Mississippi late Tuesday or early Wednesday morning.
The National Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane warning from the mouth of the Pearl River to the Alabama-Florida border.
Alabama Emergency Management Agency Director Brian Hastings wrote on Twitter that coastal residents are urged to get to a safe location by Tuesday afternoon and stay there until Wednesday morning.
By: JENNIFER KAY , Associated Press
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Tropical Storm Gordon is strengthening and should hit the central U.S. Gulf Coast as a hurricane late Tuesday before moving over the lower Mississippi Valley on Wednesday.
Gordon formed into a tropical storm near the Florida Keys early Monday, lashing the southern part of the state with heavy rains and high winds.
Tropical Storm #Gordon has formed near the Upper Florida Keys, with maximum winds of 45 mph. Tropical Storm Warnings are coming for portions of south Florida and the Keys in a Special Advisory to be issued by 9 am EDT (1300 UTC). More: https://t.co/tW4KeGdBFb— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) September 3, 2018
By early Tuesday morning, the storm was centered 230 miles (365 kilometers) east-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, with top sustained winds of 65 mph (100 kph), forecasters said. It was moving relatively quickly, at about 17 mph (28 kph)
A hurricane warning was put into effect for the mouth of the Pearl River in Mississippi to the Alabama-Florida border. As much as 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain could fall in some parts of the Gulf states through late Thursday.
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center is predicting a "life-threatening" storm surge along parts of the central Gulf Coast. A storm surge warning has been issued for the area stretching from Shell Beach, Louisiana, to Dauphin Island, Alabama. The warning means there is danger of life-threatening inundation. The region could see rising waters of 3 to 5 feet (0.9 to 1.5 meters).
"The deepest water will occur along the immediate coast near and to the east of the landfall location, where the surge will be accompanied by large waves," the center said.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Monday and said 200 National Guard troops will be deployed to southeastern Louisiana.
The storm's predicted track had shifted slightly east as of Monday evening, meaning Louisiana is currently just outside the area under the hurricane warning. Still, the southeastern part of the state remains under a tropical storm warning and residents need to be prepared for the storm to shift west, Edwards said.
"This storm has every possibility to track further in our direction," Edwards said during a news conference Monday evening.New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the city has "the pumps and the power" needed to protect residents.
But authorities issued a voluntary evacuation order for areas outside the city's levee protection system, including the Venetian Isles, Lake Saint Catherine and Irish Bayou areas.
Cantrell urged residents within the levee protection area to stock up on supplies and shelter in place.
Miami Beach Police said via Twitter that the Labor Day holiday was "NOT a beach day," with rough surf and potential rip currents. Red flags flew over Pensacola-area beaches in Florida's Panhandle, where swimming and wading in the Gulf of Mexico was prohibited. More than 4,000 Florida Power & Light customers lost power Monday due to weather conditions.
The National Weather Service said conditions were "possible" for tornadoes in the affected parts of South Florida on Monday night.
The storm left many businesses on Florida's Gulf Coast feeling shortchanged by the holiday weekend. The area has already been heavily impacted by this summer's so-called "red tide"— massive algae blooms that have caused waves of dead marine life to wash up along the coast.
Jenna Wright, owner of a coffee shop in Naples, Florida, told the Naples Daily News that she had expected higher numbers for the Labor Day weekend.
"This is normally a decent weekend, but the storm and red tide aren't helping," Wright said. "We're a beach coffee shop, and if people can't go to the beach, then we won't get any customers.
"Separately, Tropical Storm Florence continues to hold steady over the eastern Atlantic. Forecasters say little change in strength is expected in coming days and no coastal watches or warnings are in effect.