Incoming!: Tropical Storm Ida Nearing The Gulf Coast

(CNN) -- Tropical Storm Ida slowed to nearly a crawl as it approached the U.S. Gulf Coast early Tuesday, losing much of its punch as it neared land, but still spreading plenty of rain across the Southeast.

         The storm was expected to come ashore sometime Tuesday morning, the Miami, Florida-based National Hurricane Center said, with landfall expected near the Mississippi-Alabama state line.

         As of 4 a.m. ET, the center of Ida was about 60 (95 km) south-southwest of Mobile, Alabama. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph (85 km/hr), with higher gusts. It was moving north at near 9 mph (15 km/hr).

         "A turn toward the north-northeast with a decrease in forward speed is expected today," forecasters said Tuesday.

         The sharp eastward turn is expected to come as Ida pushes up against a cold front sweeping into the Southeast.

         As the storm approached, the governors of Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Louisiana declared states of emergency.

         "Based on the latest information I have seen, Alabama lies directly in the path of Tropical Storm Ida," Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said in a news release."... Though it may not have the force of some of the storms we have dealt with in the past, we cannot afford to take Tropical Storm Ida lightly," he said. "The storm surge on the coast and flooding inland pose major threats which we all must take very seriously."

         Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal warned of potential flooding, particularly in low-lying areas, although the state does not appear to lie in Ida's direct path. Authorities were continuing to monitor evacuation routes, he said, in case they need to be used.

         A tropical storm warning stretched across most of the Gulf Coast, from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle -- including the city of New Orleans and adjacent Lake Pontchartrain. A tropical storm warning means that tropical storm conditions including winds of at least 39 mph (62 kph) are expected somewhere within the warning area within 24 hours.

         Authorities do not expect New Orleans to receive more water than the city can handle, Jindal said. Workers in some coastal parishes were told to stay home Monday, and some schools were closed. Voluntary evacuations were issued in some coastal parishes, and at least one parish, Plaquemines, had opened a shelter. State officials do not plan to open any state-operated shelters, Jindal said.

         Louisiana has offered assistance to other coastal states, as they likely will bear the brunt of Ida, the governor said.

         American Airlines said it had canceled 15 flights Monday and 25 Tuesday in cities along the Gulf Coast. Delta Air Lines and AirTran Airways posted notices to travelers on their Web sites that flights in Gulf Coast cities might be impacted.

         Escambia County, Florida, said schools and county offices would be closed Tuesday.

         "Anyone living on Pensacola Beach, Perdido Key, any other low-lying coastal areas or in a mobile home, in any area of the country, is urged to evacuate beginning Monday," the county said in a statement. Residents were encouraged to stay with family or friends or, "as a last resort, in one of our public shelters."

         Ida's tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 175 miles (280 km) from the center of the storm, which was dumping rain across much of the Gulf Coast.

         "Ida is expected to produce total rain accumulations of 3 to 6 inches, with isolated maximum storm totals of 8 inches through Wednesday evening," forecasters said. The rain is expected to be heaviest from the central Gulf Coast, spreading to the northeast into the southern mid-Atlantic states.

         In addition, "a dangerous storm tide will raise water levels by as much as 3 to 5 feet above ground level along the coast near and to the east of where the center makes landfall," the hurricane center said. "Near the coast, the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves."

         Wind advisories and flood watches were posted as far inland as northern Alabama and Georgia, including the area around Atlanta, which experienced flooding in September.

         On Sunday, officials in Alabama's coastal Baldwin County urged residents living in mobile homes, coastal communities or low-lying and flood-prone areas to voluntarily evacuate. The county is also under a local state of emergency and opened a shelter, the county commission said.

         Florida's Division of Emergency Management asked residents to have disaster plans in place.

               Ida is the Atlantic region's ninth named storm of the year. The Atlantic hurricane season ends November 30.