Louisiana declares state of emergency as Tropical Storm Lee takes shape
Oil companies begin evacuating workers from rigs in the Gulf of Mexico ahead of what forecasters say could be a powerful and dangerous storm.
Fri, Sep 02, 2011 at 02:48 PM
SEVERE WEATHER: The new weather system has strengthened to Tropical Storm Lee, the hurricane center said, is aimed at areas of the coast where memories are still fresh from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. (Photo: NOAA)
Tropical Depression 13 has strengthened into Tropical Storm Lee, south of the Louisiana coast, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in its Friday report.
The latest alert from the NHC said the storm was located about 200 miles southeast of Cameron, La., and about 210 miles southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River, with maximum sustained winds of 40 miles per hour (65 km/h).
The storm has prompted oil and gas producers to shut down platforms and evacuate workers from the offshore oil patch that provides about a third of the nation's oil production and about 12 percent of its natural gas.
Tropical cyclones become named tropical storms when their winds exceed 39 miles per hour (63 km/h) and develop into hurricanes when their winds reach more than 74 mph (119 km/h).
It is aimed at areas of the coast where memories are still fresh of the devastation from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency, saying the system poses "a threat of extremely heavy, prolonged rainfall resulting in very high tides for coastal parishes and the possibility of flash floods for coastal parishes and inland parishes through the Labor Day weekend."
He said some areas could receive receive up 12-15 inches of rainfall over 48 hours, based on current forecasts.
"We know from experience that it's best to prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and since we're at the height of the hurricane season, now is a good time for Louisianians to make sure they have a gameplan to protect themselves and their families if a major storm approaches our coast," Jindal has said earlier.
"The depression is expected to move very slowly during the next five days, prolonging the period of tropical storm conditions and heavy rainfall over portions of the northern Gulf coast," hurricane center officials said.
ExxonMobil said it was evacuating about 140 employees and contractors from Gulf Coast offshore platforms expected to be in the path of the storm.
"Gross production of approximately 11,000 barrels per day of liquids and 60 million cubic feet per day of natural gas has been shut-in," the oil giant said in a statement.
BP said it had begun evacuating "all personnel from its operative assets in the Gulf of Mexico" on Thursday, but did not indicate the impact on production.
Shell said weather conditions were interfering with evacuation efforts and it might be safer to leave some workers on their rigs.
"Our priorities at this time continue to be ensuring the safety of personnel, protecting the environment and minimizing production and operational impact," the Anglo-Dutch energy giant said in a statement.
Shell said it had begun to take actions to shut in some production, primarily in "subsea fields that require specific treatments to ensure the production can be restored after the storm passes," and that the impacts so far are "minimal."
Anadarko said it had shut in production at all eight of its facilities and was evacuating all personnel — about 100 people.
Chevron said it was evacuating "non-essential personnel" and that production has not been affected.
The new storm approached as President Barack Obama declared a "major" disaster area in New Jersey and announced plans to visit the flood-hit state on Sunday to view damage wrought by Hurricane Irene, the Atlantic season's first.
Thousands remain cut off by flooding in Vermont, New Jersey and upstate New York in the aftermath of Irene, which killed nearly 50 people.
Meanwhile, Katia was downgraded to a tropical storm on Thursday but was expected to regain strength as it moved westward in the Atlantic, the National Hurricane Center said.
Katia was 930 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands at 2100 GMT — too far to affect any land mass — and there was a chance it would cycle north and disintegrate without hitting the North American mainland.
Copyright 2011 AFP Global Edition