Gordon strengthened rapidly overnight, and it was expected to hit the central Gulf of Mexico sometime late Tuesday.
Parts of the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts were under a hurricane warning as fast-developing Tropical Storm Gordon swamped South Florida on its way to the northern Gulf of Mexico.Gordon became a tropical storm after having strengthened rapidly overnight, and late Monday afternoon, the National Weather Service issued a hurricane warning for the mouth of the Pearl River, which divides Louisiana and Mississippi in the central Gulf.Tropical storm and storm surge warnings were in effect along a long stretch of the central Gulf Coast from Morgan City, Louisiana, including Lake Pontchartrain, to the Alabama-Florida border.At 5 p.m. ET, Gordon, with top sustained winds of 50 mph, was about 50 miles west-southwest of Fort Myers, Florida, and was moving west-northwest at 17 mph. The weather service projected that it would turn north in the next couple of days and that it was likely to move across the eastern Gulf overnight and the central Gulf Coast late Tuesday.The Mississippi cities of Gulfport, Biloxi and Long Beach ordered mandatory evacuations of their harbors and marinas, and the U.S. Coast Guard said the ports of New Orleans and of Gulfport and Pascagoula in Mississippi could have to be closed if winds get too strong.All tropical storm warnings were canceled for South Florida and the Florida Keys as Gordon moved away, but not until after it had battered the region with heavy rain and winds.Authorities across the Gulf Coast urged people to stay out of the water — warnings that beach lovers like Cameron Armstrong and Matthew Ewbanks ignored on their visit to Gulf Shores on the Alabama Gulf Coast."We got caught up in the undertow, and we almost died," Armstrong told NBC affiliate WPMI of Mobile on Monday.Ewbanks said: "It almost pulled us straight underneath. I literally had to grab his hand and help him. We got out of it barely alive."Jeff Collier, mayor of Dauphin Island, Alabama, in the Gulf, said the storm was approaching just as the island was finishing up recovery from Hurricane Nate last year."We've just about got things cleaned up," Collier told WPMI. "It's been a good summer, and hopefully this won't do too much damage."
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Florence held steady at just below hurricane strength over the eastern Atlantic Ocean early Monday evening, about 1,000 miles west-northwest of the southernmost Cabo Verde Islands. It was moving west at 15 mph, pushing maximum sustained winds of 70 mph with higher gusts.Forecasters said that little change in strength was expected and that no coastal watches or warnings were in effect.