Oil companies pull workers from threatened rigs in gulf

Oil companies are evacuating workers in the Gulf of Mexico ahead of what U.S. forecasters say could become a powerful storm.

The National Hurricane Center says a low pressure system over the Gulf could develop into a tropical cyclone in the next two days. The governor of Louisiana has declared a state of emergency, saying the storm could drench the region in up to 38 centimeters of rain, about 15 inches.

The potential threat to oil and gas platforms off the southern U.S. coast prompted companies like Shell, Exxon Mobil and BP to shut down production. Chevron said it was evacuating non-essential workers, but announced no impacts to production.

The news comes as emergency crews continue to help residents recover from a hurricane that ravaged the eastern U.S. just days ago.

Flooding devastated parts of the states of Vermont, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey after Hurricane Irene brought high winds and heavy rains to the eastern U.S.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the region are still without power, and many schools remain closed. Roads in the area are under repair.

Irene hit North Carolina Saturday with 120 kph (75 mph) winds, before moving up the East Coast and weakening.

Irene is blamed for at least 45 deaths in the U.S. and five in the Caribbean, and has caused billions of dollars of damage. U.S. President Barack Obama signed disaster declarations for New York, New Jersey and North Carolina, making federal funding available for recovery efforts.

Obama is scheduled to visit the state of New Jersey Sunday to view wind and flood damage from Irene.

Meanwhile, forecasters are monitoring Tropical Storm Katia in the Atlantic, which is moving west with maximum sustained winds of 110 kph, about 68 mph.

Katia was briefly strong enough to be classified as a Category One hurricane on the five-point scale of hurricane intensity, and forecasters say they expect it to regain strength in the next two days. The National Hurricane Center says Katia could become a major hurricane by Saturday. It is the second Atlantic hurricane of the season.

September is normally the peak of the hurricane season. Experts predicted an active 2011 hurricane season with eight to 10 hurricanes possible, which would be slightly more than normal.

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