Tropical storm Cindy threatens U.S. Gulf Coast

Tropical storm Cindy is heading toward landfall on the Texas-Louisiana border, threatening to bring flash floods from Texas to Florida, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

State of emergency declared in Louisiana and Alabama

Don Noel carries his daughter Alexis, 8, with his wife Lauren, right as they walk through a flooded roadway to check on their boat in the West End section of New Orleans, Wednesday. (Gerald Herbert/Associated Press)

Tropical storm Cindy churned slowly on Wednesday across the Gulf of Mexico toward an expected landing on the Texas-Louisiana border, after claiming the life of a vacationing child and threatening to bring flash floods from Texas to Florida.

The storm took the life of a 10-year-old boy who was struck and fatally injured by a log dislodged by a large wave while he stood near shore in the Gulf Coast community of Fort Morgan,  Ala., the Baldwin County Coroner said.

The boy, whose name was not immediately disclosed, was vacationing with his family at the shore. No other casualties have been reported from the storm.

Heavy rainfall from Cindy is affecting the northern Gulf Coast, and these rains could produce life-threatening flash flooding, the U.S. National Hurricane Center says in its latest advisory.

Cindy threatens to bring flash floods from Texas to Florida, according to the NHC. The storm will move inland over southeastern Texas or southwestern Louisiana.

Cindy's wind speed fell to maximum sustained winds of 85 km/h, and the storm centre was located about 185 kilometres southeast of Galveston, Texas, and 200 kilometres south of Lake Charles, La., the hurricane centre said in an evening update.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency and readied emergency vehicles and the Louisiana National Guard. As of noon, he said there were no reports of significant flooding or damage, but there were worries of tornadoes striking the state.

Alabama also declared a state of emergency, Texas increased its state of preparedness and Florida's governor warned residents in the northwest part of his state to stay alert for flooding and heavy rain.

A pickup truck was crushed by a falling tree in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., on Wednesday. The Florida panhandle community was hit by a wave of severe weather Wednesday morning as tropical storm Cindy churns through the Gulf of Mexico. (Tom Mclaughlin/Northwest Florida Daily News/Associated Press)

The storm so far has had a limited effect on oil and gas production. About 17 per cent of oil production in the Gulf was shut in and 40 platforms, or about five per cent, were evacuated. Expected rains and wind could disrupt regional refineries that are home to some 2.3 million barrels per day of refining capacity.

Sabine Pilots, which guides ships in and out of the ports of Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange, Texas, suspended some operations on Wednesday, a spokesperson said.

Cindy's landfall expected near oil refineries

The storm, moving northwest at nearly 13 km/h, was expected to make landfall along the Texas-Louisiana border, near major Exxon Mobil Corp., Motiva Enterprises and Total SA refineries. Outages at refineries could drive up gasoline prices.

"The big story here is going to be a large area of rain across the southern portion of the U.S.," said Matt Rogers, president and co-founder of Commodity Weather Group.

Cindy could drop 15 to 23 centimetres of rain and bring as much as 30 centimetres to some parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, and cause "life-threatening flash flooding," the hurricane center said.

The storm could cause a surge of up to 91 centimetres in isolated areas and possibly spawn tornados from southern Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle, the NHC said.

Waves crash next to Rollover Pass as tropical storm Cindy approaches the Gulf Coast Wednesday, on the Bolivar Peninsula in Texas. (Michael Ciaglo /Houston Chronicle/Associated Press)

The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, the largest privately owned crude storage terminal in the United States, suspended vessel off-loading operations ahead of the storm but expected no interruptions to deliveries from its hub in Clovelly, La.

While coastal refiners and ports braced for the storm, energy companies with operations in the Gulf of Mexico reported little impact on production. Shell suspended some well operations and Anadarko Petroleum, ENI, and Enbridge said they had evacuated non-essential personnel.

The Gulf of Mexico region is home to about 17 per cent of U.S. crude and five percent of dry natural gas output, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

New Orleans residents were told to expect about 15 centimetres of rain from the storm, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a press conference on Wednesday, about half the amount previously forecast.

Air travel mostly unaffected

There was little impact on air travel ahead of the storm. At 4 p.m., New Orleans airport reported eight flights cancelled and Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson had seven flights cancelled, according to FlightAware, an airline tracking service.

There were reports of voluntary evacuations from some coastal communities in Texas, including the Bolivar Peninsula in Galveston County, near where the storm is expected to hit land.

The Tennessee Valley Authority said it was lowering some lake levels to add water storage capacity for rains from Cindy. TVA provides electricity to more than nine million people in parts of seven southeastern states, along with flood control for the Tennessee River system.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30. Most meteorologists forecast this year will be more active than normal. 

Tropical storm Arlene formed far out in the Atlantic on April 20, a rare pre-season named storm. Cindy is the third storm of the season. (NOAA)

With files from CBC News