By Kelli Dugan
MOBILE, Ala (Reuters) - Heavy rains and strong wind gusts pressed across southern Alabama and Mississippi on Saturday as the center of Tropical Storm Lee neared coastal Louisiana to the west.
The National Hurricane Center extended the tropical storm warning, already in effect from Mississippi to Texas, further east to include the entire Alabama coast and Destin, Florida.
But residents accustomed to much stronger storms didn't seem worried as the inclement weather forced cancellations of some outdoor events for the Labor Day holiday weekend.
"There's nothing to it. We get summer showers worse than this," said Mobile resident Michael Hanks, as he topped off his gas tank before heading to a friend's home to watch football.
"The only catastrophe here will be if we lose power before the game's over," Hanks said.
The National Hurricane Center said the slow-moving storm could dump up to 20 inches of rain from the central Gulf Coast northward into the Tennessee Valley through Sunday and cause extensive flooding and flash flooding.
The Florida Panhandle could get four to eight inches of rain by late Sunday, forecasters said.
The storm system also could spawn tornadoes overnight in parts of southern Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and the far western Florida Panhandle.
Several events have been canceled or delayed by Lee.
Promoters of a Kid Rock concert in Orange Beach, Alabama, on Labor Day said late Friday the show would be rescheduled.
A fishing tournament and Labor Day parade, both slated for Monday in Mobile, also were canceled.
Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier said some tourist cancellations and early departures had been reported ahead of the storm's landfall. Live entertainment was canceled at the West End public beach and at the Isle Dauphine golf facility.
"We need the rain," Collier said. "It's just unfortunate this has happened on a holiday weekend when we had so many activities planned."
All island roads were passable at midday, he said.
"The rain is starting to pick up, though, so there's been some water (washing) over the streets, but nothing's impassable yet," Collier said.
SOME MISSISSIPPI ROADS BLOCKED
Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour declared a state of emergency on Friday for seven counties ahead of the storm, and local governments were taking precautions as forecasters predicted tides could be two to four feet above normal.
Some low-lying coastal areas were inundated and several southern Mississippi roads had become impassable by Saturday afternoon, emergency management officials said.
Inland parts of Mississippi also will be affected, with areas near Hattiesburg possibly getting more than 10 inches of rain, according to the state emergency management agency.
"If you live in low-lying areas that are prone to flooding, now is the time to know what you will do if you have to leave your home," MEMA Director Mike Womack said in a statement. "Having a plan could save your life."
Officials in Jackson County encouraged voluntary evacuations for all residents living in travel trailers, flood-prone and low-lying areas of the coastal Mississippi county by early Sunday.
The Gautier Convention Center in Jackson County will be turned into an American Red Cross emergency shelter beginning at 8 a.m. local time.
A voluntary evacuation of low-lying areas remained in effect in Hancock County due to flooding concerns.
Only one person stayed overnight at the shelter opened in that county, but a spokeswoman said more people were calling on Saturday and were expected to seek refuge there.
A possible tornado was reported in Pascagoula, Mississippi, just before 1 p.m. local time, but weather officials could not confirm that there had been a funnel cloud.
A state of emergency was declared in Biloxi, Mississippi, where crews cleared storm drains and catch basins on city streets prone to flooding. That proved a smart move: Biloxi got about a foot of rain on Saturday, according to the city's website.
(Additional reporting by Verna Gates; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Jerry Norton and David Bailey)