Tropical Storm Cristobal bears down on U.S. Gulf Coast

Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards has declared a state of emergency to prepare for the storm’s possible arrival.

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By Associated Press and Kalhan Rosenblatt

NEW ORLEANS — A re-energized Tropical Storm Cristobal continued its advance toward the U.S. Gulf Coast early Sunday, having spawned a tornado in Florida and brought heavy rains that already caused flooding and mudslides in Mexico and Central America.

After weakening to a tropical depression while moving over land in Mexico's Gulf coast, Cristobal headed back into the southern Gulf of Mexico from the Yucatan Peninsula on Friday and powered back up into a tropical storm. Forecasters said it would arrive on U.S. soil late Sunday but was not expected to grow into a hurricane.

Outer rain bands from the storm were spreading across parts of the northern Gulf Coast early Sunday, and conditions were expected to deteriorate, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said. Cristobal’s maximum sustained winds remained at 50 mph and it was moving north at 12 mph, centered around 175 miles south-southwest from the mouth of the Mississippi River.

On Sunday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center's Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch in Miami tweeted that the storm's "peak seas" off the coast of Louisiana were 25 feet tall, but that winds and seas would diminish on Monday.

However, the National Hurricane Center said the storm was expected to slowly strengthen until making landfall Sunday night along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

But the storm already made its presence felt Saturday evening with a tornado that touched down near downtown Orlando, the National Weather Service said. The twister just missed a group of protesters at Lake Eola at around 7:30 p.m. There appeared to be no injuries, but tree limbs were knocked down, and there were reports of power outages.

“Yes, it is related to the tropical storm that is well to our west,” said Scott Kelly, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Melbourne, Florida. “But the tropical storm provided a lot of low level shear and that has allowed for some tornadoes to form over Central Florida.”

The threat for tornadoes would continue overnight, he said.

The Hurricane Center said the storm could cause heavy rains from East Texas to Florida this weekend and into early next week. A tropical storm warning was posted for the northern Gulf of Mexico coast from Intracoastal City, Louisiana, to the Alabama-Florida border. Storm surge warnings and watches were in effect in Louisiana and Mississippi, with flooding up to 5 feet expected in some places.

In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards has declared a state of emergency to prepare for the storm’s possible arrival. On Friday, he asked President Donald Trump to declare a pre-landfall emergency for the state due to the storm's threat.

By Sunday afternoon, Trump said in a tweet that he would grant the request to help with "the big storm that is currently hitting your shores."

"At the request of @SenJohnKennedy & @SenBillCassidy of the Great State of Louisiana, I will be approving & signing today an EMERGENCY DECLARATION which will help with all aspects of the big storm that is currently hitting your shores. FEMA is already there. God Bless You!," Trump tweeted.

By Sunday afternoon, the emergency declaration had been approved, according to a White House press release.

Parts of Jefferson Parish, a suburb of New Orleans, appeared to be experiencing surge flooding on Sunday afternoon, according to images shared to Facebook by Jefferson Parish Councilman Ricky Templet.

Jefferson Parish had called for voluntary evacuations Saturday of Jean Lafitte, Lower Lafitte, Crown Point and Barataria because of the threat of storm surge, high tides and heavy rain. Residents were urged to move vehicles, boats and campers to higher ground.

A similar order was issued Saturday for several Plaquemines Parish communities, including Happy Jack, Grand Bayou, Myrtle Grove, Lake Hertiage, Harlem and Monsecour. The parish's president, Kirk Lepine, said the order was issued as a precaution.

The hurricane center's forecast path puts Alabama on Cristobal's east side, far from where the center comes ashore. Still, the southwest part of the state is expected to get gusty winds, heavy rain, storm surge and possibly tornadoes as the storm moves closer to the coast.

“Sunday will be very wet and windy as Cristobal passes west of the area, placing the central Gulf Coast on the ‘dirty’ eastern side of the storm,” the weather service said.

Cristobal formed this week in the Bay of Campeche from the remnants of Tropical Storm Amanda, which had sprung up last weekend in the eastern Pacific and hit Central America. The two storms combined to soak the region with as much as 35 inches of rain in some areas over the past week. At least 30 deaths have been attributed to the two storms and the flooding and landslides they unleashed.

In Bacalar, in the south of Mexico's Quintana Roo state, 230 families were isolated by the rains and had to be airlifted out, David Leon, Mexico's national civil defense coordinator, said Friday. Leon added there had been light damage in 75 municipalities in seven states.