Tropical Storm Gordon is continuing to strengthen and is expected to become a hurricane late Tuesday as it hits the central U.S. Gulf Coast, including Mississippi. From there, it's forecast to move inland over the lower Mississippi Valley on Wednesday.
Gordon formed into a tropical storm near the Florida Keys early Monday as it lashed the southern part of the state with heavy rains and high winds.
As of 5 a.m., the storm was centered some 230 miles east-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and moving west-southwest at 17 mph, forecasters said. Maximum sustained winds were clocked at 65 mph.
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said, "On the forecast track, the center of Gordon will move across the eastern Gulf of Mexico today, and will approach the north-central Gulf Coast within the warning area late this afternoon or evening, and move inland over the lower Mississippi Valley tonight or early Wednesday."
A hurricane warning was put into effect for the area stretching from the mouth of the Pearl River in Mississippi to the Alabama-Florida border. As much as 8 inches of rain could fall in some parts of the Gulf states through late Thursday, according to the hurricane center.
The center said the storm is also expected to bring "life-threatening" storm surge to portions of the central Gulf Coast. A storm surge warning has been issued for the area stretching from Shell Beach, Louisiana, to Dauphin Island, Alabama. The warning means there is danger of life-threatening inundation. The region could see rising waters of 3 to 5 feet.
"The deepest water will occur along the immediate coast near and to the east of the landfall location, where the surge will be accompanied by large waves," the center said.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Monday and said 200 National Guard troops will be deployed to southeastern Louisiana.
The storm's predicted track had shifted slightly east as of Monday evening, meaning Louisiana is currently just outside the area under the hurricane warning. Still, the southeastern part of the state remains under a tropical storm warning and residents need to be prepared for the storm to shift west, Edwards said.
"This storm has every possibility to track further in our direction," Edwards said during a news conference Monday evening.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell held an afternoon news conference and said the city has "the pumps and the power" needed to protect residents. But authorities issued a voluntary evacuation order for areas outside the city's levee protection system, including the Venetian Isles, Lake Saint Catherine and Irish Bayou areas.
Cantrell urged residents within the levee protection area to stock up on supplies and shelter in place.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.