La. officials monitoring low pressure system

Published 3:13 pm Wednesday, September 19, 2007

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — It’s not a hurricane; it doesn’t have a name, or a tropical depression number. But a weather system, with the potential to develop into something stronger, has been a top local news story in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. And it had emergency management officials on guard Wednesday.

At midday, eyes were on what was an upper-level low, the center of which appeared to be over west-central Florida, meteorologist Phil Grigsby said. Models showed possible tracks across the Gulf Coast, with Louisiana and the New Orleans area in the middle of the extreme ends of those tracks, he said.

The National Weather Service in its hazardous weather outlook said the low-pressure area could affect southeast Louisiana and south Mississippi Friday night or Saturday and that it would have the potential to become a subtropical or tropical storm. Higher-than-normal tides and coastal flooding were possible Friday into Saturday, the report read.

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However, ‘‘the path, strength and timing of this storm system are still uncertain,’’ the report said.

State and local officials planned to speak throughout the day and continue monitoring weather conditions, a spokeswoman for Louisiana’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness said. The state had not activated its emergency operations center, as of late morning.

Shell Oil Co. said it planned to evacuate about 700 staff deemed not essential to drilling and production in the Gulf of Mexico by the end of the day Wednesday. In Plaquemines Parish, portions of which were destroyed by Katrina in 2005, nervous residents were calling local officials for any news.

Since Katrina, ‘‘people are gun-shy, and they’re going to call, which is good,’’ Phillip Truxillo, Plaquemines’ emergency management director, said. ‘‘They’re supposed to be monitoring and watching.’’

If a tropical storm threatened, residents in federally issued trailers would be evacuated to an auditorium and high school, he said. On Wednesday, parish workers were checking to see that drains were clear of debris and picking up trash or other loose debris, he said.

An emergency management official in St. Bernard Parish, which was virtually wiped out by Katrina, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. A New Orleans city spokeswoman also didn’t immediately respond to a message.