Braced for Storm, N.O. Gets Clouds

The Associated Press
Sunday, September 23, 2007; 1:32 AM

NEW ORLEANS -- An hour after city officials opened shelters, warned of possible power outages and urged calm ahead of a threatening tropical depression, the system moved inland hundreds of miles away, and forecasters canceled the tropical storm warning that had authorities on alert.

Under partly cloudy, pale-blue skies Saturday, some in this city devastated by Hurricane Katrina two years ago wondered if it was a bit much.

"I can understand them taking precautions and all," Gus Paschos said over coffee at a French Quarter shop. But he said the preparations and news coverage surrounding the unnamed storm system were "ridiculous."

"People are overly sensitive since Katrina," he said. "People are scared."

After the storm and levee breaches that left 80 percent of New Orleans underwater, all levels of government were criticized for their preparation and response to Katrina.

For several days this week, weather reports on local newscasts keyed on an area of low pressure that, on Friday, became Tropical Depression No. 10 _ and, potentially, the region's first major brush with tropical weather since hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which hit in August and September 2005, respectively.

The system also developed the week after Humberto morphed from tropical depression to hurricane within just 18 hours. Humberto affected parts of the state after making landfall in Texas and "served as a wonderful lesson," said Mark Smith, a spokesman for Louisiana's office of emergency preparedness.

"When it boils down to safety, or we believe there's the possibility that Louisiana may be impacted, we have to start getting things ready to move," he said, noting that models had shown the more recent system also affecting Louisiana.

While the system wasn't predicted to strengthen beyond perhaps a weak tropical storm, local officials expressed concerns about the safety of the thousands of people still living in federally issued trailers. Several parishes declared states of emergency as a precaution. The potential for strong winds prompted the city of New Orleans to open three shelters until any threat had passed.

By Saturday, forecasters said the main threat was heavy rainfall, possible in parts of the Florida Panhandle and southwest Alabama.

City spokesman James Ross said while there's no "foolproof plan" for making decisions about emergency preparedness, "our highest responsibility is to ensure that our residents are never in harm's way when it can be prevented."

Ross said the events allowed for "an excellent trial of our preparation and ability to work effectively with our partners."

Smith urged people to remain vigilant; hurricane season runs through November.

In the Pacific, a weakening Tropical Storm Ivo had top sustained winds of about 45 mph and could make landfall as a tropical depression in Mexico's Baja peninsula late Sunday, authorities said. Mexico issued a tropical storm watch Saturday for about 100 miles of Pacific coast on the extreme southern tip of the Baja peninsula.

© 2007 The Associated Press