NEW ORLEANS - Tropical Storm Cindy formed Tuesday in the Gulf of Mexico and began churning heavy rain bands toward the northern Gulf Coast, where Louisiana shuttered flood gates and parts of three other states also braced for a risk of flash flooding.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a state of emergency because of the threat of torrential rains and other severe weather, including dangerous high tides and rip currents. Double red flags snapped in the wind on the public beach at Gulf Shores in her state, warning visitors to stay out of the pounding surf.
The third tropical storm of 2017, Cindy was expected to reach the northern Gulf Coast late Wednesday and then rumble inland over western Louisiana and eastern Texas on Thursday. Forecasters warned that rainfall totaling 6 to 9 inches (15-22 cms) and up to 12 inches (30 cms) in isolated spots was the biggest threat in southern parts of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle.
Already some flooding from outlying rain bands was reported on Alabama's Dauphin Island and flood control locks and gates were being closed along Louisiana's bayou-marbled coast as Cindy hovered nearly stationary - still well offshore. Officials in various coastal Louisiana and Mississippi communities handed out sandbags as rain threatened low-lying areas along rivers and bayous.
The National Weather Service in Miami said Cindy was located early Tuesday afternoon about 265 miles (430 kilometers) south of Morgan City, Louisiana - or about 355 miles (565 kilometers) southeast of Galveston, Texas. The cyclone had top sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kph) and was nearly stationary for hours, but was expected to resume a crawl toward the northwest in coming hours.
A tropical storm warning was in effect from High Island, Texas, to the Pearl River's mouth along the Louisiana-Mississippi line. A tropical storm watch covered a large swath of the upper Texas coast from west of High Island to San Luis Pass.
Rain and tides, rather than wind, were considered the main danger from the system.
In New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu urged vigilance as bands of rain from the system swept over the city. Forecasts said the system could dump a few inches to more than 10 inches (a few centimeters to more than 25 cm), depending on its development and path. At worst, the storm could flood neighborhoods outside the city's levee system and cause flash flooding even in protected areas.
"This is going to be a very serious event," Landrieu said at a news conference.
In coastal Louisiana's Terrebonne Parish, Kim Chauvin said the shrimp processing businesses she and her husband run helped put out the word Monday that shrimpers should return to port and unload their catch before flood control structures closed.
"We call them, we text them, we Facebook them, we Twitter, them. Any way we can get to them," she said.
Earl Eues, an emergency official in Terrebonne, said the closing of locks and flood gates began Monday and would be completed Tuesday evening,
Parishes along the coast made sandbags - or sand and bags - available to people who wanted to protect homes and businesses.
At the Escatawpa Hollow Campground in Mississippi, on the Alabama state line, owner Larry Godfrey was prepared for flooding that would just add to the woes of a rainy spring.
"We've had so much rain, we haven't done any business in about eight weeks because of the rain," said Godfrey, whose campground typically hosts swimmers and boaters. He said the Escatawpa River, at 15 feet Tuesday, would typically be lower than 3 feet at this time of year.
While the northern Gulf Coast braced for Cindy, the southern Caribbean region was dealing with Tropical Storm Bret, which unleashed heavy flooding, knocked out power and ripped off several roofs in some areas of Trinidad &Tobago. Bret was located about 185 miles (295 kilometers east-southeast of Curacao) late Tuesday morning. It had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph) and was moving west-northwest at 23 mph (37 kph) and becoming disorganized.
All airports in Trinidad & Tobago reopened later Tuesday, though public schools and many businesses remain closed.
As cleanup efforts began, people posted pictures of furniture floating inside their homes and of dozens of uprooted trees blocking roads across Trinidad. Venezeula's government discontinued a tropical storm warning for Isla Margarita. A tropical storm watch remained in effect for the Dutch Caribbean islands of Bonaire, Curacao and Aruba.
Bret is forecast to weaken and become a tropical depression on Wednesday.