LITTLE ROCK —Arkansas is ready to welcome evacuees or provide any other assistance to Gulf Coast states bracing for a tropical storm that could reach hurricane strength before making landfall, Gov. Mike Beebe said Monday.

The National Weather Service said Monday that New Orleans appears to be in the path of Tropical Storm Isaac, which was projected to become a Category 1 hurricane by the time it reaches land late Monday or early Tuesday.

Evacuations were under way Monday in many Gulf Coast communities in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Beebe said the state Department of Parks and Tourism activated the COVER program Monday to prepare for possible evacuees from the potential hurricane. COVER stands for Communication Vacancies Emergency Response Plan and was created in response to the influx of people fleeing to Arkansas during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"All of our appropriate agencies learned a lot after Katrina," Beebe said. "Now we don’t expect anything like (Katrina), but it’s always better to be prepared. Some procedures have already been implemented."

The COVER program uses a website to provide information such as storm updates and available shelter locations and hotel/motel vacancies to people needing assistance.

The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management also is working with local emergency managers, particularly in southern Arkansas, to make sure that preparations are made for possible evacuees, the governor said.

Beebe also said state officials have talked with emergency officials in Louisiana and Mississippi, but neither state had asked for any help by 4 p.m. Monday. He said the National Guard is on standby just in case.

"It’s a matter of being ready," he said. "At this juncture, it does not look like that will be necessary, however … they will be ready if needed."

The National Weather Service in North Little Rock predicted rainfall of 2-5 five inches across Arkansas on Tuesday, with wind gusts between 20 mph and 30 mph.


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