NEW ORLEANS — Tropical Storm Karen continued its slow trudge Saturday toward the Gulf Coast, threatening to bring heavy wind and high rains despite losing some of its punch.
Officials from Louisiana to northwest Florida acknowledged that the storm was weakening and sent some emergency workers home, but urged residents to be cautious.
"The storm's weakened, and that's good news, but we're not out of the woods yet," New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said at a news conference. He warned of likely high winds, street flooding and power outages.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said forecasters had discontinued tropical storm watches across much of the Gulf Coast but that a portion of Louisiana remained under a tropical storm warning.
Karen stalled for several hours Saturday but began moving slowly northward at about 2 mph (4 kph) by the late afternoon. It had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph), making it a weak tropical storm.
Karen's center was likely to come ashore either Saturday night or Sunday morning. It was expected to weaken further and lose tropical-storm status on Sunday.
Rick Knabb, the director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, noted that "there is still the potential for some locally heavy rainfall and for some storm surge in coastal areas, but the magnitudes of those hazards greatly reduced. We still could see 1 to 3 feet of coastal flooding due to storm surge in some spots."
In low-lying Plaquemines Parish, La., officials changed an evacuation order from mandatory to voluntary Saturday afternoon. More than 80 evacuees from the area, at the state's southeastern tip, had taken refuge at a public shelter, which would remain open Saturday.
They gathered in an auditorium where they rested on cots, watched for weather updates on TV and chatted outside on the front steps.