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Tropical Storm Claudette brings tornado threat to Southeast

By Jason Hanna and Aya Elamroussi, CNN

Tropical Storm Claudette was thrashing the central Gulf Coast on Saturday morning, dumping heavy rain and threatening flooding in parts of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida after pushing through Louisiana.

The system’s center came ashore in southeastern Louisiana early Saturday, and by 7 a.m. CT was centered about 30 miles north of New Orleans with sustained winds of 45 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.

Claudette has been dumping heavy rain, and could yield dangerous flash flooding across coastal Mississippi and Alabama, as well as the far western Florida Panhandle, through Saturday afternoon, the NHC said.

A total of 5-15 inches of rain could fall across parts of the central Gulf Coast by storm’s end, the NHC said. Some areas of the coast between New Orleans and Mobile have already seen 4-8 inches of rain since Friday.

Floodwater already was washing over rural streets by sunrise Saturday in coastal Mississippi areas on either side of Biloxi, video from CNN affiliate WLOX showed.

Shallow flooding also collected in roads and yards in a neighborhood in Slidell, Louisiana, video from CNN affiliate WVUE showed Saturday morning.

High winds also were battering parts of the region. Tropical-storm-force winds — at least 39 mph — extended more than 200 miles from the center, the NHC said.

Whether this system was a tropical storm when it made landfall wasn’t clear. The National Hurricane Center simultaneously announced around 4 a.m. CT Saturday that a gulf storm previously called a “potential tropical cyclone” had become Claudette, and also that it was centered inland near Houma, Louisiana.

Residents in the region have prepared over the last couple of days for the storm. In New Orleans, Cara McCarthy was moving her Toyota Prius to higher ground.

“We just never know what’s gonna happen. So (we’re) just hoping for the best. We’ve moved out cars, but we can’t move our house,” McCarthy told CNN affiliate WDSU. “We’ve got our sandbags ready. We’ve got our tarp ready and we’re just … hoping for the best.”

Storm is forecast to weaken into a tropical depression this weekend

Claudette is forecast to weaken into a tropical depression by Saturday night or early Sunday and become post-tropical on Sunday.

Widespread 2-4 inches of rainfall is expected from the Gulf Coast through interior portions of the Southeast, including Atlanta and Charlotte, this weekend.

In addition to heavy rain and high winds, brief, quick-moving tornadoes will be possible near the coast Saturday from southern Mississippi to the western Florida Panhandle.

After the system exits into the Atlantic Ocean — perhaps through coastal North Carolina on Monday — the system could re-form as a tropical storm over the water, maybe by early Tuesday.

In Mississippi, people started filling sandbags Thursday to help guard against potential flooding, WLOX reported.

“I loaded up a bunch of sand and I am going to put them around my pens, that way my dogs aren’t in knee-high water,” Michael Fahey, a Hancock County, Mississippi, resident told WLOX.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a state of emergency on Thursday and activated a crisis action team to support local agencies with resources needed beyond parish capabilities.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the location of the storm’s center as of 4 a.m. CT Saturday. It was about 45 miles southwest of New Orleans.

CNN’s Allison Chinchar, Tyler Mauldin, Steve Almasy and Haley Brink contributed to this report.

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