By Kathy Finn
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Gordon weakened after making landfall just west of the Alabama-Mississippi border and lashing the U.S. Gulf Coast with high winds and heavy rain early on Wednesday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
Gordon is about 20 miles (30 km) northwest of Hattiesburg, Mississippi and was packing winds of 40 miles per hour, it said.
The storm, which is expected to weaken to a tropical depression later Wednesday morning, will likely move across the lower Mississippi Valley through the day, the NHC added.
Flash flood warnings and watches were in effect for inland areas while all coastal watches and warnings associated with Gordon were discontinued at this time, the NHC said.
A child was killed on Tuesday when a tree fell on a mobile home in Pensacola, Florida, the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter.
Governors in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama declared a state of emergency while companies cut 9 percent of U.S. Gulf of Mexico oil and gas production.
Tropical-storm force winds were lashing the Alabama and western Florida panhandle coastlines and some areas still recovering from last year’s storms could see 12 inches (30 cm) of rain.
More than 35,000 homes and businesses in Alabama and Mississippi were without electricity early on Wednesday, Poweroutages.us reported.
Sea levels could rise as much as 5 feet (1.5 m) from Shell Beach, Louisiana, to Dauphin Island, Alabama, forecasters said.
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency told South Mississippi residents to be prepared to evacuate.
At LaFrance Marina near Ansley, Mississippi, owner Sue Cates said a tidal surge is sure to push water into the marina’s low-lying campgrounds, making evacuation “the only choice” people have to protect themselves.
Nevertheless, she said she and her husband will remain in their home, which sits on tall pilings, 24 feet above ground. Built after Hurricane Katrina, the home is made to withstand a 150 mile-an-hour wind, she said.
“We’re way up here, and I think we’ll be OK,” Cates said. “People around here are well-trained for this sort of thing.”
U.S. oil producer Anadarko Petroleum Corp evacuated workers and shut production at two offshore platforms on Monday, and other companies with production and refining operations along the Gulf Coast said they were securing facilities.
The Gulf of Mexico is home to 17 percent of U.S. crude oil and 5 percent of natural gas output daily, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The U.S. Coast Guard said the ports of New Orleans and Gulfport and Pascagoula, Mississippi, may have to close within 48 hours.
Last year, hurricanes hit Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, causing widespread destruction and thousands of deaths.
(Reporting by Kathy Finn in NEW ORLEANS; Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in NEW YORK, Brendan O’Brien in MILWAUKEE, Scott Malone in BOSTON and Dan Whitcomb in LOS ANGELES; Editing by Toni Reinhold, Lisa Shumaker, Darren Schuettler and David Stamp)