Ida to make landfall by Tuesday

Published 11:34 am Monday, November 9, 2009

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — Schools closed, residents of low-lying areas sought shelter and Florida’s governor declared a state of emergency Monday as a rare late-season tropical storm churned toward the Gulf Coast.

After a quiet Atlantic storm season, residents from Louisiana east to Florida took the year’s first serious threat in stride.

“Nobody has gotten into panic mode,” said Bobbie Buerger, who owns a general store on Dauphin Island, south of Mobile, Ala. She said residents were buying a few supplies, such as candles and bread, so they could ride out the storm in their homes.

Earlier, heavy rain in Ida’s wake triggered flooding and landslides in El Salvador that killed 124 people. One mudslide covered the town of Verapaz, about 30 miles outside the capital, San Salvador, before dawn Sunday.

Ida started out as the third hurricane of this year’s Atlantic season, which ends Dec. 1, but it weakened to a tropical storm Monday morning, with maximum sustained winds near 70 mph. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said it was expected to weaken further before making landfall along the U.S. Gulf Coast sometime Tuesday morning.

Tropical storm warnings were in effect across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Residents elsewhere in the Southeast braced for heavy rain. In north Georgia, which saw historic flooding in September, forecasters said up to four more inches could soak the already-saturated ground as Ida moved across the state.

There were no immediate plans for mandatory evacuations, but authorities in some coastal areas were opening shelters and encouraging people near the water or in mobile homes to leave.

Monday morning, Ida was located about 185 miles south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and about 285 miles south-southwest of Pensacola. It was moving north-northwest near 17 mph.