Storm system Karen dissipates off Gulf Coast
LAFITTE, La. (AP) — After days of lumbering toward the Gulf Coast, the storm system Karen dissipated Sunday as storm preparations in the region were called off or scaled back.
As tides began to recede along coastal Louisiana, crews worked to pick up sandbags and some fishermen took to the water. In Lafitte, the tide had water levels along Bayou Barataria lapping at the edges of piers and sections of the main roadway into the small fishing village prone to flooding.
"We're very lucky," fisherman Ken LeBeau said. He added that he was anxious to get out shrimping Sunday — while the tide is up, shrimp may be farther inland; fisherman don't have to venture as far out to catch them.
The community has been swamped with flooding by several storms since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Many are just recovering from Hurricane Isaac last summer. Some are in the process of having their homes raised, and Mayor Timothy Kerner said levees are being planned for the area.
"It was a blessing from God that we actually dodged a bullet this time," Kerner said. He estimated that 40,000 sandbags had been put out and said the precautionary measure was worth it: "It's always easier to pick up sandbags than to clean up a flood."
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the remnants of Karen were moving eastward off the coast. Forecasters expected what remains of Karen — which had been a tropical storm, then a depression — to continue moving generally east over the next day to two days. Rain accumulations of 1 to 3 inches were expected. Even as residents breathed a sigh of relief, forecasters and emergency officials warned them to keep an eye on developments.
As the threat lifted Sunday, Plaquemines Parish closed a shelter where 80 people had taken refuge Saturday. "We got some rain, no street flooding, so we're looking pretty good. ... We're not expecting any flooding," parish spokeswoman Caitlin Campbell said.
Wind and waves uncovered tar balls on the beaches of Grand Isle, La., and crews headed out Sunday to check on them, Mayor David Camardelle Jr. said. He said he was sure they were from the 2010 Gulf oil spill. "After a spill like that in the Gulf of Mexico, anytime low pressure stirs up the Gulf it comes back and stirs up the oil on the beach. Tar balls have been spread all over. We always expected it," he said.
In an email, BP spokesman Jason Ryan said, "Should any residual Macondo material appear and require removal, we will retrieve if directed by of Coast Guard, just as is required of any responsible party. We have repeatedly demonstrated our ability to respond quickly following severe weather, and we are prepared and ready to do the same if necessary after this storm."
Vessel traffic at the mouth of the Mississippi River resumed at 12:15 a.m. Sunday, the Coast Guard said. Two cruise ships delayed by the storm were expected at New Orleans on Sunday, Carnival Cruise Lines said in a news release.
In Florida, the state emergency response team returned to normal operations. At Pensacola Beach, beachcombers, bike riders, kite surfers and dive students enjoyed the cloudy skies and cooler breezes.
Rolling waves and vibrant clouds provided a picturesque view for Karen — who said she had an affinity for the storm that shares her name — and Gene Pehek. The retired couple held hands as they surveyed the scene.
"The storm is way out in the Gulf, and it isn't going to bother us," he said.
The weather didn't dampen Dina and Jacob Ferrie's celebration after they earned their dive certifications Sunday morning. They took photos and congratulated each other as the shed their dive gear. The multiday class continued despite the threat from Karen. Although visibility was a little limited, the pair said they had no problems completing their dives.
People also enjoyed the beach in Alabama, undeterred by intermittent heavy rains and brisk winds. A few people fished in the surf.
Authorities said dangerous rip currents were still present, and double red flags flew to indicate no one should enter the water. Stephie Burford of Warrior, Ala., kept one hand on her visor, the other holding her coffee, as she went for a morning walk on the sand.
"This wind is just tearing you up," she said.
McConnaughey reported from New Orleans. Associated Press reporters Melissa Nelson and Suzette Laboy in Pensacola, Fla., and Jay Reeves in Gulf Shores, Ala., contributed to this story.