Emergency declared as Tropical Storm Gordon heads for Gulf Coast

A pump jack operates at sunset in an oil field in Midland

The hurricane center also has issued tropical storm warnings for parts of the Florida panhandle and eastern Louisiana.

The storm was producing gusty winds and heavy rain along the coast of the western Florida Panhandle and along the Texas coast, the National Hurricane Center said in an afternoon advisory.

As of 2 a.m. Tuesday, Gordon was about 280 miles east-southeast of the mouth of Mississippi River.

The storm is expected to become a hurricane, with winds of at least 74mph (119km/h) and up to 12 inches (30cm) of rain forecast by the US National Hurricane Center (NHC).

Tropical Storm Florence continues to swirl out in the Atlantic Ocean, and is not expected to impact land for a few days.

The last hurricane to strike the USA was Nate in October, coming ashore in Biloxi with 75 miles per hour winds. You know you're going to flood before anyone else does. "Now is the time to get your plans all set", he said.

Governors in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana all declared states of emergency, allowing them to mobilize state resources and National Guard troops to help during and after the storm.

New Orleans was devastated by deadly Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In anticipation, the center announced a storm surge warning, meaning there is "a danger of life-threatening inundation", along the coast from Louisiana to Florida, according to the NHC's morning briefing.

"Everyone has actually been pretty well behaved and we haven't had to pull anybody out of the water", said Destin Beach Safety Chief Joe D'Agostino, who made the decision to fly double red flags, closing the water to swimmers.

At LaFrance Marina near Ansley, Mississippi, a mile north of Heron Bay on the Gulf of Mexico, marina owner Sue Cates said that a tidal surge is sure to push water into the marina's low-lying campgrounds, making evacuation "the only choice" people have to protect themselves.

The U.S. Gulf Coast refineries represent more than 45 percent of the national refining capacity, and the Gulf of Mexico yields 17 percent of the country's total oil production.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency warned of storm surges of between 3 and 5 feet (1 and 1.5 meters) and told South Mississippi residents to be prepared to evacuate.

"When you get the higher waves, water starts splashing across".

The long-range forecast map for the storm shows it slowly turning to the northwest as it approaches Bermuda by the end of the week. In this scenario, the storm could be forced west and move toward the eastern USA coast.

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