By Kathy Finn
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal warned on Friday that Tropical Storm Lee is likely to produce flash flooding in low-lying parts of the New Orleans metropolitan area throughout the holiday weekend.
Winds as high as 65 miles per hour could affect coastal communities as the storm moves across land on Saturday evening, forecasters said. The tropical depression was upgraded to Tropical Storm Lee around earlier on Friday, but forecasters said it could reach Category 1 hurricane status briefly before weakening when it hits land.
The storm was already producing rain and sustained winds of 40 mph in the area. It could bring a combination of heavy rains, substantial winds and tidal surges from the Gulf of Mexico throughout the weekend, he said.
"Get ready for the wind, get ready for the rain. It's coming and it's going to be here for a while," he said.
Local officials in Grand Isle and Lafitte in coastal areas south of New Orleans, where high wind gusts were already being reported on Friday, called for voluntary evacuations. Strong gusts up to 50 mph were also reported in nearby Port Fourchon.
In the same area, the Larose Civic Center was opened to serve as a shelter if needed. No other evacuations, voluntary or mandatory, have been called for yet, Jindal said.
Because the storm is slow-moving, its effects are expected to last for several days.
"We'll be dealing with this at least through Tuesday," Jindal said.
Isolated areas could see 20 inches of rain, while amounts from 10 to 15 inches are likely in others. Coastal tides are expected to be two to five feet higher than normal.
Jindal said that along with coastal areas that will be affected by rain and rising tides, the tidal surges could produce backwater flooding in tributaries throughout the area south of New Orleans and into Lake Pontchartrain.
The New Orleans Levee District has closed 13 floodgates and a major gate across Lake Borne is expected to close on Friday, to help prevent tidal flooding into Lake Pontchartrain.
Floodgates are being closed in surrounding parishes as well.
(Edited by Karen Brooks)