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Tropical Storm Nears Gulf Coast

September 2, 1998

MIAMI (AP) _ Earl, a tropical storm so vast it nearly filled the Gulf of Mexico, was expected to explode into a hurricane and hit the Louisiana and Texas coast Wednesday.

``It’s time to start praying,″ said Clyde Giordano, president of Plaquemines Parish on the tip of boot-shaped Louisiana. ``We’ve been through this all our lives so we know what’s coming.″

By Tuesday evening, Earl was centered about 190 miles south-southwest of New Orleans and moving toward shore at 9 mph. Its sustained winds were about 60 mph and was expected to reach hurricane strength _ 74 mph or more _ by the time it hits the coast Wednesday.

One computer model projected ``explosive intensification.″ The National Weather service said Earl should hit Louisiana by mid-morning on Wednesday and is expected to move toward Mississippi.

Voluntary evacuations of Louisiana’s coast and barrier islands began Tuesday, and Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster declared a state of emergency as flooding of 7 to 10 feet above normal was predicted in some areas.

Plaquemines Parish opened emergency shelters as the voluntary evacuation went into effect and ordered schools closed Wednesday. Floodgates were closed around New Orleans.

Earl was initially expected to come ashore by Friday, but that changed after its speed doubled from about 6 mph to 12 mph earlier in the day. The storm stayed put for a bit, then began moving toward the coast early evening.

``If the present trend continues, it looks more like Louisiana, Texas, but we cannot rule out the states east of that,″ Avila said. ``This is just in the formation stage so we do not have a good handle on it.″

Earl promised to generate more powerful winds than Tropical Storm Charley, which landed last week in Texas, caused flooding inland. It was blamed for at least 19 deaths in Texas and Mexico.

A hurricane watch was issued for a small slice of the Texas coastline _ from the Louisiana border to High Island, 30 miles northeast of Galveston.

If Earl stays on course for Louisiana, Texas would be on the western edge of the storm, which is generally drier and calmer than the eastern side. But its track could change quickly, forecasters warned.

In Texas’ Nueces County, trash cans and portable restrooms were removed from North Padre Island and parts of Mustang Island as tides climbed about a foot above normal.

``Our actions so far have been to prepare the beaches for high tides,″ said Chris Lawrence, the county’s emergency management coordinator.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Danielle swirled with 100 mph winds over the Atlantic, 240 miles west-northwest of Bermuda. Storm-force winds of at least 39 mph were forecast over the islands by Wednesday, but the hurricane is expected to break up within days without threatening the U.S. mainland.

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