People play in the surf in Gulf Shores, Ala., Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013. Forecasters said that Tropical Storm Karen dissipated and was just a low pressure area that will bring heavy rains to the coast. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
NEW ORLEANS — After days of lumbering toward the Gulf Coast, the storm system Karen dissipated late this morning as storm preparations in the region were called off or scaled back.
The remnants of the storm still had the potential to unleash heavy rains on low-lying areas. But southeastern Louisiana parishes lifted evacuation orders, and Plaquemines Parish closed a shelter where more than 80 people had taken refuge Saturday.
“We got some rain, no street flooding, so we’re looking pretty good. ... We’re not expecting any flooding,” Plaquemines Parish spokeswoman Caitlin Campbell said.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the remnants of Karen were moving eastward off the coast about 13 mph. Forecasters expected what remains of Karen — which had been a tropical storm, then a depression — to continue moving generally east over the next day to two days. Maximum sustained winds remained near 30 mph, with higher gusts, and forecasters said localized coastal flooding could still occur along portions of the coast. Rain accumulations of 1 to 3 inches were expected.
Even as residents breathed a sigh of relief, forecasters and emergency officials warned them to keep an eye on developments.
Wind and waves uncovered tar balls on the beaches of Grand Isle, La., and crews headed out today to check on them, Mayor David Camardelle Jr. said. He said he was sure they were from the 2010 Gulf oil spill. “After a spill like that in the Gulf of Mexico, anytime low pressure stirs up the Gulf it comes back and stirs up the oil on the beach. Tar balls have been spread all over. We always expected it,” he said.
In Lafitte, La., Mayor Timothy Kerner said he was relieved the storm lost steam and didn’t continue to push up the tide in his flood-prone community. The water lapped at the edge of the main roadway through town in some low-lying areas but stopped short of flooding streets and lawns.
“Everything’s good,” Kerner said today. “It’s looking really good for Lafitte. The tide is already starting to recede, so we’re in great shape.”
Kerner said crews would work to remove the sandbags placed in low-lying stretches of shoreline along Bayou Barataria, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico. He said the precautionary measure was worth it: “It’s always easier to pick up sandbags than to clean up a flood.”
Vessel traffic at the mouth of the Mississippi River, halted since Friday morning, resumed at 12:15 a.m. today, the Coast Guard said. Two cruise ships delayed by the storm were expected at New Orleans today, Carnival Cruise Lines said in a news release.
In Mississippi, Emergency Management Agency spokesman Brett Carr said the state’s National Guard was demobilized Saturday and emergency operations were scaled back.
Similar action was taken in Florida, with the state emergency response team returning to normal operations. Pensacola saw wind and some clouds today, though the surf was not as rough as earlier in the weekend.
In Alabama, intermittent heavy rains moved across the coast and winds were brisk, but the weather didn’t keep tourists off the beach. A few people fished in the surf.
Authorities said dangerous rip currents were still present, and double red flags flew to indicate no one should enter the water. Stephie Burford of Warrior, Ala., kept one hand on her visor, the other holding her coffee, as she went for a morning walk on the sand.
“This wind is just tearing you up,” she said. I didn’t even consider bringing my beach umbrella or coming out here to do anything but just walk because the wind is so bad.”