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PostSubject: Tropical Storm Ida bears down on US Gulf Coast   Wed Nov 11, 2009 11:47 am

Tropical Storm Ida bears down on US Gulf Coast
Posted: 10 November 2009 1908 hrs

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana : Tropical Storm Ida bore down on the US Gulf coast on Tuesday, still packing strong winds after cutting a swath of destruction that left 136 dead in Central America.

Ida was 95 miles (153 kilometers) southwest of Mobile, Alabama at 0600 Tuesday, moving north at a speed of 10 miles per hour with sustained winds of 60 miles per hour, the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida said.

"We urge people to take precautions and watch their children," Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said at a press conference.

Storm tides could be six feet higher than normal, resulting in "nuisance flooding" on low-lying roads across the Louisiana coastline, Jindal said.

And strong winds could snap tree limbs and knock out power, the governor said as trees across New Orleans began to sway under darkening skies.

However, the US Army Corps of Engineers is "confident" that the vast network of levees, pumps and drainage canals will protect New Orleans from serious flooding, Jindal added.

The Big Easy is still rebuilding from the devastation wrought after Hurricane Katrina knocked out levees and flooded most of the low-lying city four years ago.

Ida, which on Sunday was a category two hurricane on the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale, weakened to a tropical storm on Monday, officials at the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.

The tail end of Ida coupled with a low pressure system in the Pacific caused heavy flooding in El Salvador that killed 136 people, civil defense officials said Monday. President Mauricio Funes declared a state of emergency.

Landslides and overflowing rivers carried away homes, while a raging torrent ripped through an entire section of the town of Tepetitan. Some of the bodies were taken to a chapel and covered in mud-caked sheets.

El Salvador had been on a state of alert since Thursday as heavy rains associated with Ida began to fall on the region, destroying an estimated 930 homes and leaving some 13,000 people homeless in Nicaragua.

Torrential rain has also struck the neighboring nations of Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala.

But on Monday Ida's fury weakened as the storm brushed past Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, where it dumped heavy rain but caused no casualties or major damage in the popular resort of Cancun.

Schools in New Orleans and the suburbs were closed Monday.

Motorists were urged to stay off the road if possible, especially after dark. Storm shelters were opened in the more vulnerable areas and National Guard troops were placed on alert. Sandbags were offered to residents in flood-prone areas.

Officials announced "voluntary evacuations" for low-lying areas outside the city's levee protection system, especially fishing communities on the state's storm-eroded coast.

"If people are thinking about evacuating they need to do it now," said Louisiana state police sergeant Markus Smith.

This year, the Pacific's El Nino ocean-warming phenomenon has resulted in an especially calm Atlantic hurricane season -- a welcome respite for Caribbean and southeastern US residents still smarting from a 2008 pounding.

There have only been two other hurricanes in the 2009 Atlantic season, which runs from June 1 to November 30.

- AFP/vm

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