A weakened Lee still poses flood threat in South
Monday, September 5, 2011
DAUPHIN ISLAND, Ala. (AP) — The remnants of Tropical Storm Lee dumped steady rain Monday on the already soggy South, causing scattered flooding and power outages and forcing the evacuation of an apartment building in Mississippi's capital city.
There were no new reports of injuries related to the storm, which was downgraded overnight from a tropical depression. Still, forecasters warned the slow-moving system could cause inland flooding in areas with hills or mountains in the coming days.
By Monday, the heaviest rain was in east Mississippi and pushing into Alabama.
"Right now it's a big rainmaker," said Marc McAllister, a meteorologist with National Weather Service in Jackson, Miss.
Chris Mims, a spokesman for the city of Jackson, said 45 families were evacuated from Camelot Apartments when water from a flooded creek got close to the building. He said the families were taken to a storm shelter.
A possible tornado early Monday damaged some trees in central Mississippi's Smith County, and there were scattered reports of flooded homes and streets in Mississippi, authorities said. At least three possible tornadoes hit south Mississippi on Sunday, damaging a few homes. Another tornado had been reported Sunday in Mobile County, Ala., where it knocked down power lines.
The storm dumped 8 to 10 inches of rain in central Mississippi before slacking off as it weakened and pushed to the east.
The most rain recorded was 15.43 inches in Holden, La., said Mike Shields, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Slidell, La. He said New Orleans got as much as a foot in places.
Just west of the Florida Panhandle, Alabama's main beaches in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach alternately filled and emptied of tourists as squalls from Lee moved across the coast on Labor Day. Many vacationers spent the morning packing for the drive north toward heavy storms moving across the region.
Beaches were empty about 35 miles west on Dauphin Island as waves broke beneath houses standing on stilts and splintered lumber floated in the surf. Much of the island's main road was flooded and covered with sand, jellyfish and foam washed in by Lee. Customers trickled in to the town's largest store on what should have been a busy day.
"It's been kind of boring," said Tabitha Miller, a clerk at Ship and Shore. "It's not killing us though since we're the only gig in town."
Flash flood watches and warnings were in effect across a swath of the Southeast early Monday, stretching from the lower Mississippi Valley, eastward to the Florida Panhandle and the southern Appalachians, according to the Hydrometeorological Predication Center.
National Hurricane Center specialist Robbie Berg said Lee's flash flood threat could be more severe as the rain moves from the flatter Gulf region into the rugged Appalachians.
Closer to the Gulf, the water is "just going to sit there a couple of days," he said. "Up in the Appalachians you get more threat of flash floods."
The system was sluggishly moving on a track that would run it up the Tennessee River Valley on Tuesday. It had already dropped nearly 4 inches of rain in Pike County, Ky., by Monday morning. Flash flood watches were issued for parts of both Tennessee and Kentucky, and forecasters warned that stream flooding and mud slides were possible.
No deaths had been directly attributed to Lee, though a body boarder in Galveston, Texas, drowned after being pulled out to sea in heavy surf churned up by Lee. The Coast Guard was also searching for a teenage boy swept away by rough surf off Gulf Shores, Ala. A man in Mississippi also suffered non-life-threatening injuries when authorities said he was struck by lightning that traveled through a phone line.
The vast, soggy system spent hours during the weekend hovering in the northernmost Gulf of Mexico before its center finally crossed into Louisiana west of New Orleans, pelting a wide swath of coastline.
Some of the damage on the Gulf Coast, where tropical storms are an almost yearly event, appeared to come from spinoff tornadoes that touched down in southern Mississippi and Alabama.
Dena Hickman said her home in Saucier, Miss., was damaged by what she believes was a tornado. It happened too fast for her to get her 12-year-old daughter, who uses a wheelchair, out of her bed and into a safer place.
"I laid on top of her to try to protect her. It all happened so quickly I couldn't do anything else," she said Sunday.
Her family weathered the storm, but it damaged shingles on their roof, flipped a 34-foot camper on its side, ripped off the roof of a cinderblock building that houses a water pump and pulled the doors off of a metal shop building. Harrison County officials said five homes were damaged by the suspected twister, but no injuries were reported.
A possible tornado also hit southern Mobile County in Alabama, damaging at least one home and knocking out power. No injuries were reported.
As much as a foot of rain fell in parts of New Orleans and caused some street flooding, but the city's 24 pumps were sucking up the water and sending it into Lake Pontchartrain. About 200 families had to be evacuated because of flooding in Livingston Parish.
In Lafitte, La., workers and residents were busy sandbagging around homes to stop water pushed up from Barataria Bay by tides and wind. However, many people had ignored a mandatory evacuation order.
The small town, which runs along the edge of the Intracoastal Canal and the bay, was under a mandatory evacuation order, but many people ignored it.
"A few more left this morning," Jefferson Parish President John Young said. "The sheriff had to get a few people out using his high-water vehicles."
Mohr reported from Jackson, Miss. Associated Press writer Randall Dickerson contributed to this report from Nashville, Tenn.
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