By JUAN A. LOZANO
Associated Press Writer
GALVESTON, Texas (AP) -- Residents along the Texas and Louisiana coasts prepared Monday for Tropical Storm Edouard, which was rolling through the warm waters of the Gulf and threatening to reach near-hurricane strength before making landfall.
In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a statewide emergency, and two communities in the western part of the state, Vermilion Parish and Cameron Parish, asked thousands of residents to evacuate low-lying coastal areas that are prone to flooding. The storm was expected to hit Tuesday morning anywhere from western Louisiana to Port O'Connor, Texas.
For vacationers, the timing of the storm couldn't be worse: The Texas coast banks on tourism at this time of year, with much of the state baking in 100-degree weather. The storm also comes in the wake of Hurricane Dolly, which took aim at the resort community of South Padre Island on July 23.
"This is not the time of year for anyone along the Texas coast to be interrupted by these storms," said Dan Quandt, executive director of the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau. "A lot of people come just to get out of the heat."
Forecasters say Edouard is likely to hit west of Galveston, which is in the peak of its tourist season, when the city's population of about 60,000 doubles. While the storm-seasoned town was watching the storm, no evacuations were ordered and local officials were merely urging caution.
"We are not telling anybody to leave," said Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas. "We are asking citizens and our visitors to pay attention to the weather and use their own judgment as to whether to ride out the storm on the island, knowing there will be power outages during the night or tomorrow."
Connie Porter, owner of Avenue O Bed and Breakfast in Galveston, said she planned to watch the progression of the storm on Monday, but she wasn't worried about it. She said a storm like the one being described might mean some debris and that people should take care of patio furniture, but she didn't anticipate much more.
"It's not going to be a huge issue for anybody in this area," Porter said.
As Edouard approached, oil and gas companies in the Gulf of Mexico evacuated workers from 23 production platforms and six rigs, according to the U.S. Minerals Management Service, which monitors offshore activity. The Gulf of Mexico has 717 manned platforms and 125 operating rigs, the MMS said.
Edouard is not likely to disrupt production, according to one financial firm that specializes in the energy industry. "He'll just be (a) little tropical storm tike compared to big mammas that rip things up and spike gas prices," the Houston-based securities firm Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. said in a note to investors Monday.
Shell Oil Co. said Monday morning it had begun evacuating about 40 workers from some of its operations in the western Gulf. The company said no further evacuations were planned based on the current forecast and that it expected no impact on production.
Exxon Mobil Corp. said Monday afternoon it was preparing for heavy weather associated with Edouard, preparing platforms and other structures for heavy wind and rain and identifying workers for potential evacuation. But the company said no evacuations had taken place and production had not been affected.
A tropical storm warning was in effect from the mouth of the Mississippi River westward to Port O'Connor in Texas. A hurricane watch was in effect from west of Intracoastal City, La. to Port O'Connor.
Rudy Guidry of Grand Isle, on the Louisiana coast south of New Orleans, was on his father's houseboat Monday making it a bit more secure than usual. "We're on the water right now. Just putting on extra lines in case it comes up," he said.
At 5 p.m. EDT, Edouard had maximum sustained winds near 45 mph, with higher gusts. The storm's center was located about 135 miles south-southeast of Lafayette, La., and 215 miles east-southeast of Galveston, Texas.
The storm was moving west near 7 mph, and forecasters said the warm waters of the Gulf provided the right conditions for the storm to intensify and approach hurricane strength with winds of 74 mph or more.
Texas began activating a number of emergency teams Sunday afternoon, including calling up 1,200 Texas military forces and six UH-60 helicopters, the State Operations Center said. The Texas Forest Service and the Texas Engineering and Extension Service activated response teams.
About 260 miles down the coast from Galveston, South Padre Island was just starting to get back on its feet from Hurricane Dolly. While the island resumed its weekly Friday night fireworks display and regained electric power last week, Dolly's impact will carry on through the end of summer.
The island's four biggest full-service hotels are closed. One will reopen Oct. 1, another Nov. 1 and the other two have not announced, Quandt said. The island's convention center will also be shuttered until Oct. 1.
The busiest part of the Atlantic hurricane season is usually in August and September. So far this year, there have been five named storms, two of which became hurricanes. Federal forecasters predict a total of 12 to 16 named storms and six to nine hurricanes this season.
Associated Press Writers John Porretto in Houston, Jamie Stengle in Dallas, Christopher Sherman in McAllen and Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)