NEW ORLEANS - Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency Sunday as the U.S. Gulf Coast braced for the arrival of Hurricane Ida, which was making its way across the Gulf of Mexico as a Category 2 storm.
A hurricane watch was in effect from southeastern Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle, meaning hurricane conditions were possible in the next day and a half.
The emergency declaration is a precaution that frees up state resources for any emergency situations. The National Guard and state agencies have been put on high alert so personnel and vehicles are available if needed.
Coastal stretches of southeast Louisiana, particularly areas outside levee protection, are the main concern. Forecasts indicate those areas could see winds, rains and high tides that could create localized flooding.
Officials in Florida, Mississippi and Alabama were also keeping a close eye on the storm's track, though no emergency declarations or other measures had yet been issued.
Forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Ida's winds are now near 100 mph (160 kph), and Ida could get stronger later Sunday.
The hurricane was moving to the northwest near 10 mph (16 kph), and Ida was expected to pick up steam as it moved over open waters in the Gulf of Mexico.
Ida could reach the Gulf Coast by Tuesday, though it was unclear how strong it would be by then.
Ida is expected to interact with a weakening cold front over open seas and will most likely be a tropical storm or perhaps a low-level hurricane when it gets to the Gulf Coast, said Jack Beven, a hurricane specialist at the centre. But when that will happen isn't entirely clear.
Parts of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula remained under a hurricane warning, and a tropical storm warning was in place for the western tip of Cuba with heavy rains expected.
Earlier Sunday, Ida's wind and rain whipped palm trees in the Mexican resort city of Cancun. Fishermen tied their boats down, though tourists seemed to regard Ida as only a minor setback.
"I figure probably in a couple hours we'll be stuck inside," said Julie Randolph, 40, a social worker from Ormond Beach, Florida, who braved the rain to jog along the near-empty beach.
As winds picked up and intermittent rains intensified Sunday morning, restaurants and nightclubs near the waterfront began covering their windows with large pieces of plywood.