NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Much of the Gulf Coast was returning to normal Sunday as the storm Karen, downgraded to a tropical depression, lumbered off Louisiana's extreme southeast coast.
The storm threatened to unleash heavy rains on low-lying areas, but southeastern Louisiana parishes had lifted evacuation orders, and Plaquemines Parish closed a shelter where more than 80 people had taken refuge Saturday.
“We got some rain, no street flooding, so we're looking pretty good. … We're not expecting any flooding,” Plaquemines Parish spokeswoman Caitlin Campbell said Sunday morning.
All tropical storm warnings had been discontinued. The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm would likely downgrade further and move later Sunday near or over parts of southeastern Louisiana. It was drifting to the northeast near 2 mph with maximum sustained winds of 30 mph, and was expected to cross near or over the Florida Panhandle sometime Monday. Rain accumulations of 1 to 3 inches were expected.
Even as some preparations were dropped, forecasters and emergency officials warned residents to keep an eye on developments.
Wind and waves uncovered tar balls on the beaches of Grand Isle, La., and crews headed out Sunday to check on them, Mayor David Camardelle Jr. said. He was sure they were from the 2010 Gulf oil spill. “After a spill like that in the Gulf of Mexico, anytime low pressure stirs up the Gulf it comes back and stirs up the oil on the beach. Tar balls have been spread all over. We always expected it,” he said.
In Lafitte, La., Mayor Timothy Kerner said he was relieved the storm lost steam and didn't continue to push up the tide in his flood-prone community. The water lapped at the edge of the main roadway through town in some low-lying areas but stopped short of flooding streets and lawns.
“Everything's good,” Kerner said Sunday morning. “It's looking really good for Lafitte. The tide is already starting to recede, so we're in great shape.”
Kerner said crews would work to remove the sandbags placed in low-lying stretches of shoreline along Bayou Barataria, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico. He said the precautionary measure was worth it: “It's always easier to pick up sandbags than to clean up a flood.”
Some of the flood gates closed Saturday to protect waterways from storm-driven tides were reopened Sunday. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had not done so by 9 a.m., but Plaquemines Parish was opening the floodgate at Empire, about 40 miles up the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico.
Vessel traffic at the mouth of the Mississippi River, halted since Friday morning, resumed at 12:15 a.m. Sunday, the Coast Guard said.
The Port of New Orleans remained busy, port officials said in a news release, with some of the nine ships at dock there still working cargo. Two cruise ships delayed by the storm were expected at New Orleans on Sunday, Carnival Cruise Lines said in a news release.
In Mississippi, Emergency Management Agency spokesman Brett Carr said the state's National Guard was demobilized Saturday and emergency operations were being scaled back.
Similar action was taken in Florida, with the state emergency response team returning to normal operations. Pensacola saw wind and some clouds Sunday, though the surf was less rough than earlier in the weekend.
In Alabama, intermittent heavy rains moved across the coast and winds were brisk, but the weather didn't keep tourists off the beach. A few people fished in the surf.
Authorities said dangerous rip currents were still present, and double red flags flew to indicate no one should enter the water. Stephie Burford of Warrior, Ala., kept one hand on her visor, the other holding her coffee, as she went for a morning walk on the sand.
“This wind is just tearing you up,” she said. I didn't even consider bringing my beach umbrella or coming out here to do anything but just walk because the wind is so bad.”
Plaisance reported from Lafitte, La. Associated Press reporters Melissa Nelson and Suzette Laboy in Pensacola, Fla., and Jay Reeves in Gulf Shores, Ala., contributed to this story.
- Oct. 5, 2013: La. Residents take shelter for tropical storm Karen
- Oct. 5, 2013: Evacuation order eased in vulnerable part of La.
- Oct. 4, 2013: Karen weakens as it approaches Gulf Coast