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Tropical Storm Debby threatens Louisiana, Florida

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Posted at 7:57 AM, Jun 24, 2012
and last updated 2012-06-24 07:57:44-04

By the CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) — Tropical Storm Debby crept up the Gulf of Mexico early Sunday, threatening to bring flooding and tornadoes to parts of the Gulf coast.

As of 4 a.m. (5 a.m. ET), Debby was about 165 miles southeast of the Mississippi River delta, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. The storm carried maximum sustained winds of 50 mph as it chugged north at 3 mph.

A tropical storm warning was in effect for coastal Louisiana from the mouth of the Pearl River westward to Morgan City, the weather agency said. New Orleans is not included in the warning area.

“The combination of a storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters,” the hurricane center said. Floodwaters in parts of coastal Mississippi and Louisiana could reach 2 to 4 feet deep.

Debby is also expected to dump 3 to 6 inches of rain from southern Louisiana to the Florida panhandle, with up 10 inches in isolated areas, the weather agency said.

In addition, “isolated tornadoes are possible” over parts of west-central and southwestern Florida on Sunday.

Nine oil and gas production platforms have been evacuated, equivalent to 1.5% of the 596 manned platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, the federal government said Saturday. One of 70 rigs was evacuated.

Plaquemines Parish, on the southern tip, of Louisiana planned to declare a state of emergency Sunday, said emergency preparedness director Guy Laigast.

The parish expects a slow rise of water pushed by the winds. Crews will place sand bags along a back levee in Myrtle Grove, Laigast said. Louisiana Highway 23, a main road in the parish, could be affected.

St. Mary Parish planned Monday to place warning signs at two communities built at sea level, said Duval Arthur, director of emergency preparedness. “We’re anticipating a 3- to 4-foot high tide. Water would be over the road in those areas.”

Charles Roeseler, meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Houston-Galveston office, said Saturday that Debby “could really go in a number of directions” — Florida, Louisiana and Texas. “It would be a welcome rain” in Texas, he said.

The storm is expected to strengthen over the next two days, the hurricane center said Sunday.

CNN’s Phil Gast and Holly Yan contributed to this report.

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