Rain pounded the US Gulf Coast on Sunday ahead of the arrival of Tropical storm Cristobal, which has already spawned a tornado in Florida and threatened more twisters along with high winds and storm surge.

Roads flooded in coastal Louisiana and Mississippi, and thousands were without power even before the storm made landfall.

It was expected to arrive on US soil late Sunday, though it was not expected to grow into a hurricane. 

Forecasters warned the storm would affect a wide area stretching roughly 180 miles (290km) east into Florida. But they forecast the worst impacts in south-east Louisiana and southern Mississippi, where some spots could get up to 12in of rain and storm surges of up to 5ft (1.5 meters). 

It’s very efficient, very tropical rainfall, National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said in a Facebook video. The storm could also generate tornadoes in parts of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida. 

Rain fell intermittently in New Orleans famed French Quarter Sunday afternoon, but the streets were nearly deserted, with many businesses already boarded up due to the coronavirus. 

Daniel Priestman shopped for groceries, but said he didn’t see people frantically stocking up as he did before other storms. He said people may be overwhelmed by the coronavirus and recent police violence and protests.

They seemed resigned to whatever happens– happens, he said. 

The Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans said the city’s drainage system had limits and was old, so residents should avoid underpasses and low-lying areas where water can pool during inevitable street flooding.

On evacuated Grand Isle in Louisiana, a highway was underwater and much of the island wasn’t passable, Jefferson Parish Councilman Ricky Templet told The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate. Templet plans to stay on the island during the storm and said he hasn’t seen water levels this high since a 2012 hurricane.

The Louisiana National Guard had dozens of high-water vehicles and rescue boats ready to go across south Louisiana. Three teams of engineers were also available to help assess potential infrastructure failures, the Guard said in a news release.

In Biloxi, Mississippi, a pier was almost submerged by Sunday morning. Squalls with tropical-force winds had reached the mouth of the Mississippi River and conditions were expected to deteriorate, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said. 

Cristobals maximum sustained winds remained at 50mph (85kph), and it was moving north at 5mph (8kph). On Sunday at 1pm EDT, the storm was centered 90 miles (145km) south of New Orleans.

But the storm already made its presence felt Saturday evening with a tornado that touched down near downtown Orlando, the National Weather Service said. The twister just missed a group of protesters at Lake Eola at around 7.30pm. There appeared to be no injuries, but tree limbs were knocked down, and there were reports of power outages.

In Louisiana, Governor John Bel Edwards has declared a state of emergency to prepare for the storms possible arrival.

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