AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The northern Gulf Coast is bracing for a potential hurricane. Tropical Storm Gordon is churning in the Gulf of Mexico. Forecasters say it could strengthen more before making landfall tonight, likely in Mississippi. The storm's impact is already being felt from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle.
NPR's Debbie Elliott joins us now from the Gulf Coast in Orange Beach, Ala. And, Debbie, can you describe what conditions are like where you are?
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Well, it's certainly gotten very breezy. The wind has been picking up. Waves of wind and rain kind of whip through every so often. That has been going on all afternoon now. And the surf has really churned up. If you go out and look at the Gulf of Mexico, the waves are just huge. A NOAA buoy just off of Orange Beach here was recording 11-foot waves about noontime today.
CORNISH: What's the biggest threat from Gordan at this point?
ELLIOTT: Well, certainly, there's the potential for strong winds that can be damaging, knocking down power lines and the like. But water is the real issue here. Forecasters call it life-threatening inundation, the threat from both storm surge and flash flooding. Along the coast, the water will be pushing onshore, flooding tidal areas. And a lot of low-lying coastal communities and barrier islands particularly vulnerable with the path of this storm - Gulfport and Pascagoula, Miss., Dauphin Island, Ala. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant says, you know, people should be paying attention and staying off the roads and beaches by now.
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PHIL BRYANT: We want people to take this very seriously. It's not time to be playing in the surf. It's not time to be windboarding. It is time to take this as a serious storm and be prepared to react to it.
ELLIOTT: You know, a lot of rain is also in the forecast - 4 to 8 inches in a very wide region where the ground is already saturated. Isolated rainfall up to 12 inches is possible, and that threat is not just along the coast. But because this is a fast-moving storm system, Gordon can cause problems as far inland in northeast Louisiana, southeast Arkansas - tornadoes a possibility, too.
CORNISH: Now, the governors of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama have declared states of emergency. What does that mean and exactly how are people preparing?
ELLIOTT: Well, it frees up resources like National Guard troops who can be prepositioned. They have these high-water vehicles that they can use for rescue should that become necessary - help with other types of response. Emergency officials in New Orleans are actually going to be using that city's crime camera network to monitor for street flooding and other hazards in the storm to make sure the city's pump systems are working properly.
There have been some voluntary evacuations so far mostly in communities that we know are vulnerable to flooding and some barrier islands. The Mississippi Gulf Coast - a couple of communities there have put in a curfew just to keep people off the roads and make sure things are safe. So people as individuals - mostly just secure your property. You move your boat to safe harbor, put up storm shutters, board things up. You clear away lawn and deck furniture, anything that might blow away or float away in a storm.
Lisa Watts (ph) in Gulfport, Miss., today was filling up some sandbags, and she stopped to speak with Mississippi Public Broadcasting. She said she was going to fill up these sandbags and put them along her door, which she thought was pretty low and might let water in. She was also preparing with hurricane supplies as she kept an eye on the storm.
LISA WATTS: Yeah, we got water and different stuff like candles and stuff like that just to make sure. And I'm watching it on my phone.
ELLIOTT: So people are ready.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Debbie Elliott speaking to us from Orange Beach, Ala. Debbie, thank you.
ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.