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Tropical Storm Cristobal advances toward US Gulf Coast

MIAMI - A re-energized Tropical Storm Cristobal advanced toward the U.S. Gulf Coast early Saturday, bringing with it the heavy rains that already caused flooding and mudslides in Mexico and Central America.

After weakening to a tropical depression while moving over land in Mexico’s Gulf coast, Cristobal headed back into the southern Gulf of Mexico from the Yucatan Peninsula on Friday and powered back up into a tropical storm. Forecasters said it would arrive on U.S. soil late Sunday but was not expected to grow into a hurricane.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said in its 7 a.m. advisory Saturday that the storm was expected to slowly strengthen until it makes landfall, expected Sunday night along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Tropical storm-force winds could arrive as early as Saturday evening.

Cristobal’s maximum sustained winds had strengthened to 50 mph (85 kph) by early Saturday and it was moving north at 12 mph (19 kph). The storm was centred about 310 miles (500 kilometres) south-southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River.

In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards has declared a state of emergency to prepare for the storm’s possible arrival.

“Now is the time to make your plans, which should include the traditional emergency items along with masks and hand sanitizer as we continue to battle the coronavirus pandemic,” Edward said in a statement released Thursday.

On Friday, he asked President Donald Trump to declare a pre-landfall emergency for the state due to the storm’s threat.

“We are confident that there will be widespread, heavy rainfall and coastal flooding,“ Edwards said in a letter to the White House. “I anticipate the need for emergency protective measures, evacuations, and sheltering for the high-risk areas. The length of possible inundation is unknown and will likely require post-flood activities.”

Jefferson Parish, a suburb of New Orleans, called for voluntary evacuations Saturday of Jean Lafitte, Lower Lafitte, Crown Point and Barataria because of the threat of storm surge, high tides and heavy rain. Residents were urged to move vehicles, boats and campers to higher ground.

“We want to make sure residents are safe as this storm approaches so we are taking all the necessary precautions to be fully prepared,” Jean Lafitte Mayor Tim Kerner Jr. told The Advocate.

A similar order was issued Saturday for several Plaquemines Parish communities, including Happy Jack, Grand Bayou, Myrtle Grove, Lake Hertiage, Harlem and Monsecour. President Kirk Lepine said the order was issued as a precaution.

“We need to ensure residents are protected as this storm draws near, so we are taking all the necessary precautions to be completely prepared,” he said.

The hurricane centre’s forecast path puts Alabama on Cristobal’s east side, far from where the centre comes ashore. Still, the southwest part of the state is expected to get gusty winds, heavy rain, storm surge and possibly tornadoes as the storm moves closer to the coast. Those effects were expected as early as Saturday night.

“Sunday will be very wet and windy as Cristobal passes west of the area, placing the central Gulf Coast on the ‘dirty’ eastern side of the storm,” the weather service said.

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Cristobal formed this week in the Bay of Campeche from the remnants of Tropical Storm Amanda, which had sprung up last weekend in the eastern Pacific and hit Central America. The two storms combined to soak the region with as much as 35 inches (89 centimetres) of rain in some areas over the past week. At least 30 deaths have been attributed to the two storms and the flooding and landslides they unleashed.

In Bacalar, in the south of Mexico’s Quintana Roo state, 230 families were isolated by the rains and had to be airlifted out, David Leon, Mexico’s national civil defenceco-ordinator, said Friday. Leon added there had been light damage in 75 municipalities in seven states.
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