US & Canada

Tropical Storm Lee hits Louisiana on US Gulf coast

Tropical Storm Lee has made landfall in Louisiana, hurling rain at a part of the US Gulf coast still haunted by the 2005 Hurricane Katrina flood disaster.

The storm came ashore 50 miles (80km) south-west of Lafayette, packing sustained winds of 45mph (75km/h), the National Hurricane Center said.

The US Gulf Coast is braced for torrential rain and flash flooding.

Flood defences repaired after the 2005 disaster are expected to be put to the test in New Orleans.

A state of emergency has been declared in Louisiana and an emergency has also been declared in coastal parts of Mississippi.

The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said the centre of Lee is expected to move slowly over southern Louisiana for the rest of Sunday and into the evening.

"A slow northeastward motion is expected later today... followed by a turn to the east-northeast tonight," said the centre.

Image caption Tropical Storm Lee is almost stationary off the Southern Louisiana coast

Lee comes less than a week after Hurricane Irene killed more than 40 people from North Carolina to Maine and deprived millions of people of electricity.

It appears too soon to tell if another hurricane, Katia, which is out in the Atlantic, could threaten the US.

The Atlantic hurricane season usually brings about a dozen named storms, but Katia is already the 11th with half the season still ahead.

Oil production halves

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has warned of possible major flooding, with up to 10in (25cm) of rain forecast for the city.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the flood control structures in New Orleans, says it is not planning to close any of the structures yet.

Businesses in the city's famous French Quarter fear the storm may dampen the Southern Decadence festival, an annual gay lifestyle fixture.

"People are probably scared to death to come here after Katrina," Ann Sonnier, shift manager of Jester's bar, told the Associated Press news agency, adding that receipts had been disappointing so far.

Nearly half of US Gulf oil production was shut on Friday as companies - including Exxon Mobil, Shell and Chevron - evacuated workers and shut offshore platforms.

BP, the largest oil producer in the Gulf of Mexico, told the BBC it had evacuated all personnel and shut down production.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal warned residents to "make sure they have a game plan for themselves and their families should this storm strengthen".

However, the developing weather system could bring some much-needed rain to Texas, which is in the grip of a severe drought.

And rain in Louisiana could help extinguish nearby marsh fires.

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