* Oil companies shut Gulf operations, evacuate workers
* Debby expected to strengthen into hurricane, hit Texas
* Storm warnings posted for parts of Louisiana
By Jane Sutton
MIAMI, June 23 Tropical Storm Debby formed in
the central Gulf of Mexico on Saturday and was expected to
strengthen into a hurricane as it skirted the Louisiana coast
and took aim at Texas, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Debby covered much of the eastern Gulf and was centered
about 215 miles (346 km) south-southeast of the mouth of the
Mississippi River. The storm had top winds of 50 miles per hour
(81 km per hour) and was expected to strengthen into a hurricane
by Tuesday night.
The storm was nearly stationary but was forecast to start
drifting north by Monday and then turn west, grazing the
Louisiana coast through Tuesday and slamming into Texas late in
Oil and gas producers evacuated workers from oil and gas
platforms and shut in production on Saturday as the weather
worsened in the Gulf of Mexico, which is home to 20 percent of
U.S. oil production and 6 percent of natural gas output.
The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement,
which oversees oil and gas activity in the Gulf, said earlier on
Saturday that 7.8 percent of daily oil output and 8.16 percent
of daily natural gas output were shut down.
The agency's next update will be released at midday on
A tropical storm warning was issued for the Louisiana coast
from the Pearl River west to Morgan City, excluding the city of
New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain. Residents were warned to
expect storm conditions within 36 hours.
"Tropical storm conditions are expected to first reach the
coast within the warning area by Sunday night, making outside
preparations difficult or dangerous," the forecasters warned.
The combination of storm surge and high tide could cause
flooding in normally dry areas near the Louisiana coast, they
Debby could bring 3 to 6 inches (8 to 15 cm) of rain to the
Gulf Coast from southern Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle,
with up to 10 inches (25 cm) of rain in isolated areas.
The heaviest squalls were hitting Florida's Gulf Coast,
where there were unconfirmed reports that a tornado had touched
down on Saturday. Several Alabama beaches were closed due to
Forecasting models still diverged on the storm's potential
path. Most swung it west toward Texas or Louisiana, but a few
still took it east toward Florida.