by kevin mcgill and stacey plaisance associated press
Residents of a vulnerable Louisiana island town were ordered to leave Friday as Tropical Storm Karen tracked toward the northern Gulf coast, weakening but poised to be the first named storm to hit the U.S. in a relatively quiet hurricane season.
Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle ordered the evacuation of his barrier island community, where the only way out is a single flood-prone highway.
National Hurricane Center forecasters expect Karen to be near the central Gulf Coast on Saturday as a weak hurricane or tropical storm. Along with strong winds, the storm was expected to produce rainfall of 3 to 6 inches through Sunday night, with isolated totals up to 10 inches possible. Forecast tracks showed it possibly brushing, or crossing, the southeast Louisiana coast before veering eastward toward south Alabama and the Florida panhandle.
Lifeguard stands were moved off the beach to higher ground on beaches in Florida and Alabama. States of emergency were in effect in Louisiana, Mississippi and parts of Florida.
Traffic at the mouth of the Mississippi River was stopped Friday morning in advance of the storm.
In New Orleans, Sheriff Marlin Gusman announced that he had moved more than 400 inmates from temporary tent facilities to safer state lockups as a precaution. Mayor Mitch Landrieu said a city emergency operations center would begin around-the-clock operations Friday evening.
Also preparing were residents of low-lying Braithwaite in Plaquemines Parish, near Louisiana's southeastern tip, where residents in some areas were ordered to evacuate beginning at 6 p.m. Friday. The community is still recovering from last year's Hurricane Isaac, a weak but slow-moving storm that brought unexpected flooding
"I'm not expecting another Isaac, but we could get some water, so I'm moving what I can," said Larry Bartron, a fisherman who stowed nets and fishing gear in his 26-foot fishing boat, which he planned to move inside the levee system.
There were few signs of concern among visitors to Florida's Pensacola Beach, where visitors frolicked in the surf beneath a pier and local surfer Stephen Benz took advantage of the big waves.
"There is probably about 30 days a year that are really good and you really have to watch the weather, have the availability and be able to jump at a moment's notice," Benz said.
Forecasters were not expecting Karen to stall, as Isaac did last year.
Across the region, Karen could affect weekend sporting and entertainment events. In south Alabama, the Bayfest music festival in Mobile was set to begin Friday, and organizers said the show — with a lineup including the Zac Brown Band and R.Kelly — would go on as much as possible. The three-day Gretna Fest in the New Orleans suburb of Gretna also was set to begin Friday night, with acts including Earth, Wind and Fire.
Stacey Plaisance reported from Braithwaite, La.; Associated Press writers Melissa Nelson in Pensacola, Michael Kunzelman in New Orleans, and Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Miss., contributed to this story.