NEW ORLEANS — From a tiny, vulnerable island off the Louisiana coast to the beaches of the Florida Panhandle, Gulf Coast residents prepared yesterday for a possible hit from Tropical Storm Karen, which threatened to become the first named tropical system to menace the United States this year.
Karen was forecast to lash the northern Gulf Coast over the weekend as a weak hurricane or tropical storm. A hurricane watch was in effect from Grand Isle, La., to west of Destin, Fla. A tropical storm warning was issued for the Louisiana coast from Grand Isle to the mouth of the Pearl River, including the New Orleans area.
In Alabama, safety workers hoisted double red flags at Gulf Shores because of treacherous rip currents ahead of the storm.
“Now is the time for people to review their emergency plans in case conditions worsen,” Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said. People who live in flood-prone areas should think about where they’ll go if ordered to evacuate, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Greg Flynn said.
In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency, citing the possibility of high winds, heavy rain and tides.
The Army Corps of Engineers said it was closing a structure intended to keep storm surge out of the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal — known locally as the Industrial Canal — where levee breaches during Hurricane Katrina led to catastrophic flooding in 2005.
Louisiana officials were taking precautions, while noting that forecasts show the storm veering east of the state — and at a faster track than last year’s Hurricane Isaac, a weak storm that stalled over the area and caused widespread flooding.
“It should make that fork right and move out very, very quickly,” said Jerry Sneed, head of New Orleans’ emergency preparedness office.
Offshore, at least two oil companies said they were evacuating nonessential personnel and securing rigs and platforms.