From: Kathy Finn, Reuters, NEW ORLEANS
Published September 4, 2011 09:23 AM

Tropical Storm Lee hits Louisiana coast

Tropical Storm Lee crawled onto southern Louisiana's coast on Sunday as New Orleans prepared for one of the biggest tests of its flood defenses since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005.

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The National Hurricane Center said Lee's center was about 125 miles west-southwest of New Orleans, with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph at around 8 a.m. EDT.

Winds were expected to weaken gradually in the next couple of days and up to 20 inches of rain was expected to fall on southeast Louisiana, the Miami-based center said.

In New Orleans, the storm recalled Hurricane Katrina, which flooded 80 percent of the city, killed 1,500 people and caused more than $80 billion in damage to the popular tourist destination.

Half the city lies below sea level and is protected by a system of levees and flood gates.

The levees can process about 1 inch of rainfall per hour and the storm's slow-moving nature remained a worry, officials said. There were isolated reports of flooding in roads and homes. No injuries or fatalities were reported.

New Orleans officials were cautiously optimistic that the pump system would stay ahead of the rainfall, as residents awoke on Sunday to the arrival of a heavy band of rain.

"There's not a whole lot of flooding anywhere, so things are OK," said Jerry Sneed, deputy mayor of public safety. "We're ready for the next round."

On Saturday, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said stormy conditions could continue for the next 36 hours. "Don't go to sleep on this storm," he told residents.

New Orleans is under a flash flood watch through Monday night, the National Weather Service said. Potential damage from wind gusts will also be a concern, it said.

Photo shows trucks driving through a flooded street as Tropical Storm Lee slowly makes landfall in Lafitte, Louisiana September 3, 2011. 

Credit: REUTERS/Dan Anderson

Article continues: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/09/04/us-storm-usa-gulf-idUSTRE7813G820110904

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