New Orleans (US): Heavy rains from Tropical Storm Lee were falling in southern Louisiana and pelting the US Gulf Coast on Sunday as the storm's centre trudged slowly toward land, where businesses were already beginning to suffer on what would normally be a bustling holiday weekend.
   
The storm was expected to drop 10 to 15 inches (25 to 37.5 centimetres) of rain across southern Louisiana.
   
Tropical storm warning was posted from Alabama to Texas and flash flood warnings extended along the Alabama coast into the Florida Panhandle.
   
The storm's slow forward movement means that its rain clouds should have more time to disgorge themselves on any cities in their path.
   
The National Hurricane Centre said today morning that Lee's centre was about 72 kilometres southwest of Morgan City, Louisiana, moving north at 9 kph with maximum sustained winds of 97 kph.
   
It was expected to cross the Louisiana coast on Sunday and meander through the state's southern parishes through tomorrow.
   
The storm was expected to fluctuate in strength through the day, though it was not expected to reach hurricane strength.
   
Its surge was pegged at 1.2 metres high above normal sea level in Shell Beach, and 60 centimetres as far east as Pascagoula, Mississippi.
   
Lee has confounded forecasters since it began developing at midweek and pulled another surprise overnight on Saturday by coming out of a virtual stall and moving north toward the central Louisiana coast.
   
In New Orleans, sporadic downpours caused some street flooding in low-lying areas early today, but pumps were sucking up the water and sending it into Lake Pontchartrain.
   
Lee's storm surge so far had not penetrated levees along the coast, said National Weather Service forecaster Robert Ricks in Slidell, Louisiana.
   
Ricks said Lee so far has dropped as much as 17.8 centimetres of rain in southeast Louisiana and would continue to be a major rainmaker as it moved inland on Sunday.
   
The storm was expected to lift erratically to the north through tomorrow before being picked up by a cold front and zipped off to the northeast.
   
Tornado warnings were issued overnight in Louisiana and south Mississippi, but Ricks said there were no confirmed touchdowns.

(Agencies)