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Updated: Sat, 05 Oct 2013 19:15:57 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Tropical storm Karen weakens en route to Gulf Coast



Lynn Walls of Shepherdsville, Ky., collects shells as a big wave churned up by Tropical Storm Karen crashes into a seawall at Dauphin Island, Ala., on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013. Tropical Storm Karen continues to move toward the northern Gulf Coast and is expected to decrease in speed as it brings rain and potential flooding to the U.S. (© AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

Lynn Walls of Shepherdsville, Ky., collects shells as a big wave churned up by Tropical Storm Karen crashes into a seawall at Dauphin Island, Ala., on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013. Tropical Storm Karen continues to move toward the northern Gulf Coast and is expected to decrease in speed as it brings rain and potential flooding to the U.S. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves) Jay Reeves/The Associated Press

Tropical storm Karen stalled Saturday afternoon in its move toward the U.S. Gulf Coast but still threatened to bring heavy winds and high rains. Officials from Louisiana to northwest Florida acknowledged that the storm was weakening and sent some emergency workers home, but urged residents to be cautious.

"The storm's weakened, and that's good news, but we're not out of the woods yet," New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said at a news conference. He warned of likely high winds, street flooding and power outages.

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The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Saturday afternoon that Karen hadn't moved for a few hours. It had maximum sustained winds of 64 kilometres per hour, making it a weak tropical storm. Forecasters expect it to resume its northerly track and be near or over portions of southeastern Louisiana on Saturday night and Sunday. It could speed up into Sunday and is likely to pass near the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama that day.

Rick Knabb, the director of the centre in Miami, noted that "there is still the potential for some locally heavy rainfall and for some storm surge in coastal areas, but the magnitudes of those hazards greatly reduced. We still could see 30 to 90 centimetres of coastal flooding due to storm surge in some spots."

In low-lying Plaquemines Parish, La., officials changed an evacuation order from mandatory to voluntary Saturday afternoon. More than 80 evacuees from the area, at the state's southeastern tip, had taken refuge at a public shelter in an auditorium, which would remain open Saturday.

Ahead of the storm, squalls of rain hit workers sandbagging low sections of the flood-prone town of Lafitte, La., along Bayou Barataria.

Coastal authorities closed flood gates along waterways that could be affected by tides driven by the storm. In New Orleans, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continued closing barriers designed to keep surge out of the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal — scene of catastrophic flooding in 2005 when flood walls failed during Hurricane Katrina.

Karen a 'non-event'

At the Port of New Orleans, port officials working with the Coast Guard said they were optimistic that vessel traffic at the mouth of the Mississippi River, halted since Friday morning, would resume Sunday. The port remained busy, officials said in a news release, with some of the nine ships at dock there still working cargo. Two Carnival cruise ships that had to delay weekend arrivals were expected Monday.

Dan Hahn, emergency operations planner for Santa Rosa County in the Florida Panhandle said Karen appeared to be a "non-event" for the region.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesperson Brett Carr said the Mississippi National Guard was demobilized Saturday after coastal county officials said they "didn't see the need to keep them around."

Karen was poised to be only the second named storm to make landfall in the U.S. during an unusually quiet hurricane season. The first was Tropical storm Andrea, which hit Florida, in June. The season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30.

As the storm churned the Gulf, some people along the coast couldn't resist the draw of beaches.

Ray and Lynn Walls of Shepherdsville, Ky., had a sunny beach to themselves Saturday on the western tip of Dauphin Island, Alab. Waves pounded the seawall protecting nearby homes, and a locked gate blocked the entrance to a public beach that was closed because of Karen.

The trip had been planned for four people, but only two showed up, Ray Walls said. "The rest of them got a little scared of the storm."

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