* Storm not expected to become a hurricane
* Chevron sends workers back to platform
By Kathy Finn
NEW ORLEANS, Oct 5 A severely weakened Tropical
Storm Karen crept toward the Louisiana coast on Saturday after
earlier fears it would reach hurricane strength prompted the
evacuation of some coastal areas and disrupted U.S. energy
output in the Gulf of Mexico.
Karen's top sustained were holding at 40 mph (65 kph) late
Saturday afternoon. But that was down from 65 mph (105 kph) on
Thursday and 50 mph (80 kph) on Friday, and National Hurricane
Center forecasters in Miami said data from an Air Force
reconnaissance plane showed Karen could soon lose its status as
a tropical storm.
"The only tropical storm winds that the Air Force was able
to find this afternoon were limited to a very small area," said
David Zelinsky, a meteorologist at the Miami-based hurricane
He said dry air and wind shear continued to tear the storm
Karen was originally forecast to become a hurricane, and
authorities issued mandatory evacuation orders for low-lying
areas south of New Orleans on Friday.
Chevron Corp said on Saturday it was sending workers
back out to oil platforms in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, a sign the
worst of the storm had already passed deepwater areas of the
basin. They had been evacuated earlier this week.
All tropical storm watches issued due to Karen were lifted
on Saturday afternoon but a storm warning was still in effect
for Grand Isle, Louisiana, to the mouth of the Pearl River,
between Mississippi and Louisiana.
Tropical storms carry winds of 39 mph to 73 mph (63 kph to
The governors of Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama
had earlier declared states of emergency to speed storm
preparations and the Federal Emergency Management Agency
recalled some workers who were furloughed in the federal
government shutdown to assist.
Nearly two-thirds of oil output in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico
was halted as Karen neared the Louisiana coast earlier this
week, prompting oil and gas companies to shut platforms and
evacuate workers in preparation for the storm. The Gulf accounts
for about 19 percent of U.S. oil production and 6 percent of
natural gas output.
By late Saturday, the slow-moving storm was centered about
170 miles (275 km) southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi
River. Zelinsky said Karen's projected path was likely to take
its center over the southeast corner of Louisiana early on
Sunday and then across the coasts of Mississippi, Alabama and
the Florida Panhandle.
The storm could dump up to 6 inches (15 cm) of rain in some
areas and push a surge of seawater over the shoreline, the
hurricane center said.