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Tropical Storm Gordon roars across Mississippi coast; child killed in Florida

NBC News logo NBC News 2018-09-05 Alex Johnson and Gemma DiCasimirro
Image: Tropical Storm Gordon preparationsA Hancock County, Mississippi, inmate helps Janice Labat fill a bag with sand as Tropical Storm Gordon approaches Bay St. Louis on Tuesday. © Provided by NBCU News Group, a division of NBCUniversal Media LLC Image: Tropical Storm Gordon preparationsA Hancock County, Mississippi, inmate helps Janice Labat fill a bag with sand as Tropical Storm Gordon approaches Bay St. Louis on Tuesday.

Already blamed for at least one death, the center of Tropical Storm Gordon made landfall on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday night with fierce winds, heavy rain and the potential for life-threatening storm surges.

Gordon, which remained just below Category 1 hurricane strength, crossed land just west of the Alabama-Mississippi border at about 11:15 p.m. ET, the National Hurricane Center said. Gordon's top sustained winds remained at 70 mph, with tropical storm-force winds extending 80 miles from the center.

As the storm's outer winds whipped over the Gulf Coast at around 8:50 p.m. (9:50 p.m. ET), a tree was blown over onto a mobile home in Pensacola in the western Panhandle of Florida, killing a child, the Escambia County Sheriff's Office said. It is believed to be the first death attributable to the storm.

The child's identity wasn't released. A spokeswoman for the sheriff's office said the rest of the child's family escaped unharmed.

A hurricane warning remained in effect from the mouth of the Pearl River, which divides Louisiana and Mississippi, to the Alabama-Florida border. At 11:30 p.m. ET, almost 32,000 customers were without power in Baldwin and Mobile counties in Alabama, Escambia County in Florida and Jackson County in Mississippi, utilities reported.

"The storm is moving," Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said at a pre-landfall news conference Tuesday afternoon. "What we do not want is for it to loiter out over the warm water and then strike our coast."

The Mississippi cities of Gulfport, Long Beach and Biloxi ordered mandatory evacuations of their harbors and marinas, and the U.S. Coast Guard temporarily closed the ports of New Orleans; Mobile, Alabama; and Pascagoula, Mississippi.

The Cajun Navy, the volunteer collection of Louisiana boaters who flock to tropical storms and hurricanes to lend assistance, made its way to Gulfport.

"They're our neighbors, and we know what happens with the different terrains and what to expect," Clyde Cain, a Cajun Navy volunteer, told NBC station WDSU of New Orleans. "So we're here to back up the first responders and be on call."

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said his state would likely miss the worst of the storm, but he encouraged residents to remain vigilant and prepared. He issued a state of emergency and authorized the activation of 200 National Guardsmen to be positioned in southeastern Louisiana.

"We still have some nasty weather headed our way," Edwards told reporters, adding that the state could expect winds of 40 mph to 70 mph. "We're not out of the woods."

"We are going to always prepare for the worst and pray for the best," Guy McInnis, the president of St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana — the equivalent of a county manager — told WDSU as dozens of boaters and fishers cleared out of Shell Beach.

Image: Storm clouds loom over a pier as Tropical Storm Gordon approaches in WavelandStorm clouds loom over a pier as Tropical Storm Gordon approaches Waveland, Mississippi, on Tuesday. © Provided by NBCU News Group, a division of NBCUniversal Media LLC Image: Storm clouds loom over a pier as Tropical Storm Gordon approaches in WavelandStorm clouds loom over a pier as Tropical Storm Gordon approaches Waveland, Mississippi, on Tuesday.

Gordon was moving northwest at 14 mph and should weaken rapidly as it heads inland, but it's expected to produce rainfall of 4 to 8 inches from the western Florida Panhandle to southern Arkansas, through Thursday night, with isolated maximums of a foot, the hurricane center said.

The town of Bayou La Batre, in Mobile County, Alabama, was one of many coastal municipalities that issued voluntary evacuation advisories as Gordon approached.

"A lot of folks live in the low-land areas, and we don't want anyone getting caught up in that," Mayor Terry Downey told NBC affiliate WPMI of Mobile. "They need to know that with the surge coming, they could be trapped."

Had Gordon become a hurricane, it would have been the first Atlantic hurricane to make landfall in the United States since Nate last October. Nate had weakened sharply by time it hit the mouth of the Mississippi River, and Ray Coleman, a spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, warned residents not to get complacent.

"My worry is that people might get hurricane amnesia, where they feel like, 'Oh, last year wasn't so bad,'" Coleman told NBC affiliate WLBT of Jackson. "My thing is, no two storms are alike. Just because you made it through Hurricane Nate last year doesn't mean that this one will be the same."

Early projections showed Florence — the third hurricane of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season — weakening as it headed north, and no hazards to land were expected, the National Hurricane Center said.

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