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Storms head for Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi

By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Residents in parts of Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi were on weather alert Wednesday as a system that dumped heavy rain on Texas and eastern Oklahoma moved toward them.

The National Weather Service placed all of southeast Louisiana and coastal Mississippi under a flash flood watch and issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the New Orleans metropolitan area.

Three to five inches of rain could fall in some areas, with possible isolated amounts approaching seven inches, forecaster Christopher Bannan, at the National Weather Service station in Slidell, said.

A tornado warning was in effect Wednesday morning for areas east of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as a "strong rotation" appeared on radar scans, Bannan said.

An apparent tornado spotted seven miles west of Gonzales, Louisiana was moving north-northeast toward Denham Springs and Walker, though Bannan said the service had received no reports of a tornado touching down.

The storm picked up speed as it moved through Baton Rouge overnight, sparing the city severe flooding, he said.

Near Lake Charles in southwestern Louisiana, officials were investigating reports of possible tornadoes striking early Wednesday as the system moved eastward.

Heavy rainfall occurred overnight across central Louisiana, with Natchitoches Parish hit especially hard. Southwest of the city of Natchitoches, 10.3 inches of rain were reported, said hydrologist C.S. Ross of the National Weather Service.

In Natchitoches, an apartment complex was flooded and the Cane River Lake, which flows through the city, was "well over its banks in downtown," Ross said. Boathouses along the lake were flooded, but no businesses and no homes other than the apartments were reported to have taken water.

Flash flooding kept residents throughout southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana on alert overnight and through Wednesday morning.

Up to six inches of water covered roads near Bridge City, Texas, and coastal flooding was reported in Jefferson County, with water covering Highway 87, according to the National Weather Service.

Forecaster Jim Sweeney, in Lake Charles, said up to six inches of rain hit the southwestern Louisiana communities of Vinton, Singer and Starks, and flooding of homes was being reported in DeQuincy.

Forecaster Bannan, in Slidell, said the line of storms likely will slow its eastward progress on Wednesday, possibly stalling over New Orleans. The city is expected to receive two to four inches of rain, and isolated amounts could approach six inches as rain and gusting winds affect the area throughout the day and overnight.

Flash flood warnings covered portions of central and south-central Arkansas, and forecaster Chris Buonanno, in the National Weather Service's Little Rock station, said warnings are likely to be issued later for eastern parts of the state as the slow-moving system trends in that direction. He said rainfall of one to three inches is likely on Wednesday.

Much of central Arkansas had four to five inches of rain Tuesday night, with six inches reported in Mountain Home, he said. Some hail damage and downed trees were reported in Baxter County in north-central Arkansas, and in Morrilton in central part of the state.

Forecaster Joe Sellers in the Tulsa, Oklahoma, station of the National Weather Service said light rain was falling in northeastern Oklahoma "but it looks like we'll get a reprieve shortly as it moves off to the east."

Sellers said rainfall between two and four inches fell in the region overnight, with isolated reports of up to eight inches in a swath across northeastern Oklahoma into northwestern Arkansas.

(Editing By Corrie MacLaggan)

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