NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Traffic at the mouth of the Mississippi River stopped at 6 a.m. CDT Friday as coastal Louisiana prepared for a possible strike by Tropical Storm Karen, which is churning in the Gulf of Mexico.

Karen was forecast to hit the northern Gulf Coast over the weekend as a weak hurricane or tropical storm. A hurricane watch was in effect from Grand Isle to west of Destin, Fla. A tropical storm warning was issued from Grand Isle to the mouth of the Pearl River, including the New Orleans area.

A spokesman for the Port of New Orleans said cargo operations will continue as scheduled Friday, despite the river's closure at Southwest Pass. The Associated Branch Pilots, who guide ships through the river's twists and turns, shut down at daybreak.

Port spokesman Matt Gresham said the pilots' decision would not affect other parts of the river. "The rest of the river will be open," he said.

Two container ships and five breakbulk ships are scheduled to remain at the Port of New Orleans until Tropical Storm Karen has passed. Only one breakbulk ship was scheduled for arrival Friday and Gresham said it will be delayed. Four breakbulk ships and one container ship are scheduled to arrive at the port Monday.

"Storm preparations are going smoothly and we are in frequent contact with all members of the maritime community," said Gary LaGrange, the port's president and CEO. "As always, we prepare for the worst and hope for the best and safety is, of course, paramount."

Meanwhile, Carnival Cruise Lines has two cruise ships scheduled to berth at the Erato Street Cruise Terminal over the weekend. The 2,052-passenger Carnival Elation is scheduled to arrive at the port on Saturday, while the 2,984-passenger Carnival Conquest is scheduled to arrive Sunday.

Gresham said the cruise line was closely monitoring the storm and working on contingency plans that would likely be unveiled on Friday.

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