PENSACOLA, Fla. – Schools closed, residents of low-lying areas sought shelter and Florida's governor declared a state of emergency Monday as a late-season tropical storm churned toward the Gulf Coast.
After a quiet storm season, residents took the year's first serious threat in stride.
"Even though we're telling everybody to be prepared, my gut tells me it probably won't be that bad," said Steve Arndt, director of Bay Point Marina Co. in Panama City, Fla.
Ida started out as the third hurricane of this year's Atlantic season, which ends Dec. 1, but it weakened to a tropical storm Monday morning, with maximum sustained winds near 70 mph. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said it was not expected to strengthen again before making landfall along the Gulf Coast sometime Tuesday morning.
Tropical storm warnings extended more than 200 miles across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
Earlier, heavy rain in Ida's wake triggered flooding and landslides in El Salvador that killed 124 people. One mudslide covered the town of Verapaz, about 30 miles outside the capital, San Salvador, before dawn Sunday.
In the U.S., there were no immediate plans for mandatory evacuations, but authorities in some coastal areas were opening shelters and encouraging people near the water or in mobile homes to leave.
Monday morning, Ida was located about 185 miles south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and about 285 miles south-southwest of Pensacola. It was moving north-northwest near 17 mph.
Officials were encouraging residents to prepare for potential gusts of 60 mph by removing tree limbs that could damage their homes and securing or bringing in any trash cans, grills, potted plants or patio furniture.
Residents of Pensacola Beach, Fla., and nearby Perdido Key were encouraged to leave, as were people farther inland who live in mobile homes, and school was canceled in the area Monday and Tuesday. Some schools around New Orleans and in Alabama also canceled classes Monday.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency as a precaution Sunday, and the National Guard was on high alert there.
Nearly 1,400 Louisiana residents are still living in federally issued trailers and mobile homes after hurricanes Katrina and Rita; nearly 360 units remained in Mississippi.
"FEMA stresses that those in temporary (housing) units should not take chances," Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Andrew Thomas said. "Leave the unit behind and evacuate to a permanent structure that will better withstand tropical weather systems and the associated winds."
Mississippi authorities warned residents to be vigilant. They were monitoring conditions to see whether any evacuations of lower-lying areas or school closures would be necessary.
"It is likely we will at least be hit with strong winds and some flooding in our coastal counties," said Jeff Rent, a spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. Officials "do not want anybody to be caught off guard."
There were no mandatory evacuations in Alabama, but schools were closed in Baldwin County on the eastern side of Mobile Bay, and the county was opening a shelter.
In the Florida Panhandle, residents in Bay County and Panama City were being advised to secure boats and prepare for storm surges that could reach 2-3 feet. Heavy rain, wind and possible flooding was also expected.
"You really don't know until it gets close how you're going to be affected by it," said Brad Monroe, Bay County's deputy chief of emergency services.
Ida was not expected to pack the wallop seen in 2008 when hurricanes Gustav and Ike pelted the Gulf Coast back-to-back.