Gulf Coast braces for Tropical Storm Karen (with live storm tracker)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana's National Guard says Gov. Bobby Jindal has authorized mobilization of 650 guardsmen as Tropical

Storm Karen swirls in the Gulf.

Thursday's Guard news release also says 520 Louisiana National Guard technicians are being recalled from furlough to deal

with the storm.

The guard said it was readying

search-and-rescue assets, communications teams and security forces.

"Commodities distribution

personnel are being mobilized, while emergency commodities, such

as water and MREs, are presently staged in warehouses ready

to be utilized and distributed as required for emergency relief

operations following the potential impact of the storm," the

statement said.

Meanwhile, utility company Entergy has issued a statement saying it is preparing for the possibility of outages accompanying

high wind, heavy rains and thunderstorms from Karen.

The utility that services many in Louisiana and Mississippi came in for harsh criticism from public officials for the time

it took to restore power after last year's Hurricane Isaac. However New Orleans' top emergency official, Jerry Sneed, said

he was confident the company has taken steps to improve its response. He added that Karen is expected to move more quickly

than Isaac, which stalled over the New Orleans area, complicating restoration efforts.

Jindal declared a state of emergency Thursday. The declaration authorizes the governor's emergency preparedness office and

other state agencies to activate emergency plans for the tropical storm's possible impact on Louisiana parishes.

The Town of Grand Isle also declared an emergency and issued a voluntary evacuation for residents. Mayor David Carmadelle

urged people "to pick up stray items in their yard and tie down boats."

The latest forecast track showed possibly

clipping the southeastern tip of the state Saturday afternoon as it

moves toward

the Alabama coast or Florida panhandle. Plaquemines Parish, which

extends into the Gulf, declared a state of emergency Thursday

afternoon. A parish news release said schools would open Friday

but the parish recreation department canceled weekend games.

Forecasters warned the track could change and advised residents and business in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida

to prepare for possible tropical storm conditions.

Meanwhile, officials in coastal parishes advised residents to make preparations and took early steps to prepare for the storm.

Oil companies were preparing as well. Shell and BP said they were securing offshore rigs and evacuating non-essential workers.

Others were expected to do so as well.

In New Orleans, the Army Corps of Engineers planned to close a storm-surge gate protecting the New Orleans area.

The gate designed to keep possible storm

surge from Lake Borgne, east of the city, from entering the Inner Harbor

Navigation

Canal — known locally as the Industrial Canal — through the Gulf

Intracoastal Waterway. In 2005, flood wall breaches along

the canal contributed to catastrophic flooding during Hurricane

Katrina. Karen was not expected to approach Katrina's strength

or take a similar path.

Authorities in Plaquemines Parish and on the

barrier island of Grand Isle were advising residents and business to

make preparations,

though no evacuations had been ordered.

Plaquemines President Billy Nungesser said all pump stations were operating and parish crews were on standby. Plaquemines'

east bank took heavy damage from tidal surge that piled up after Hurricane Isaac stalled in August 2012.