Gulf Coast preps as Ida weakens to tropical storm

Print
Email
|

by MELISSA NELSON / Associated Press

WCNC.com

Posted on November 9, 2009 at 1:55 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 9 at 2:55 PM

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) -- Schools closed, residents of low-lying areas sought shelter and Florida's governor declared a state of emergency Monday as a rare late-season tropical storm churned toward the Gulf Coast.

After a quiet Atlantic storm season, residents from Louisiana east to Florida took the year's first serious threat in stride.

"Nobody has gotten into panic mode," said Bobbie Buerger, who owns a general store on Dauphin Island, south of Mobile, Ala. She said residents were buying a few supplies, such as candles and bread, so they could ride out the storm in their homes.

Earlier, heavy rain in Ida's wake triggered flooding and landslides in El Salvador that killed 124 people. One mudslide covered the town of Verapaz, about 30 miles outside the capital, San Salvador, before dawn Sunday.

Ida started out as the third hurricane of this year's Atlantic season, which ends Dec. 1, but it weakened to a tropical storm Monday morning, with maximum sustained winds near 70 mph. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said it was expected to weaken further before making landfall along the U.S. Gulf Coast sometime Tuesday morning.

Tropical storm warnings were in effect across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Residents elsewhere in the Southeast braced for heavy rain. In north Georgia, which saw historic flooding in September, forecasters said up to four more inches could soak the already-saturated ground as Ida moved across the state.

There were no immediate plans for mandatory evacuations, but authorities in some coastal areas were opening shelters and encouraging people near the water or in mobile homes to leave.

Monday morning, Ida was located about 185 miles south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and about 285 miles south-southwest of Pensacola. It was moving north-northwest near 17 mph.

On Pensacola Beach, Glenn Wickham stood on the roof of a three-story house, securing metal shutters on a window as his crew moved furniture from the lower stories to the upper floors. They were hired by a homeowner who wasn't taking any chances after his property was one of the few to survive Hurricane Ivan, which came ashore in 2004 as a Category 3 storm.

"We doing all this out of an abundance of caution - I really don't think this is going to be anything," Wickham said.

Dan Conell took shelter in a beach pavilion so he could watch the churning Gulf water as heavy rain fell. The Kansas City, Mo., resident, in town for a conference, was seeing the ocean for the first time.

"This is amazing," he said. "It is beautiful."

Burt Waters, a Pensacola native, stood nearby with his grandson and said he wasn't worried about Ida.

"I've been through Erin with 180 mph winds and then there was Ivan - we call that one Ivan the terrible," he said.

Still, some beach businesses put protective plywood on their windows and emergency officials planned to close bridges coming on and off the beach when winds picked up later Monday.

School was canceled in the area Monday and Tuesday, and some schools around New Orleans and in Alabama also told students to stay home Monday.

In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency as a precaution Sunday, and the National Guard was on high alert.

Nearly 1,400 Louisiana residents are still living in federally issued trailers and mobile homes after hurricanes Katrina and Rita; nearly 360 units remain in Mississippi.

Louisiana closed state offices Monday in New Orleans, the barrier island town of Grand Isle and the vulnerable coastal parishes of Lafourche, Plaquemines and St. Bernard. A voluntary evacuation of low-lying areas of Plaquemines and St. Bernard was in effect.

Authorities hoped the storm would stay east of the Louisiana coast as forecast and the state would suffer no more than relatively mild flooding of low-lying coastal areas unprotected by levees.

"We'll complete the drill just to make sure we don't get caught with some unexpected change," said St. Bernard Parish President Craig Tafarro.

Mississippi authorities warned residents to be vigilant.

"It is likely we will at least be hit with strong winds and some flooding in our coastal counties," said Jeff Rent, a spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. Officials "do not want anybody to be caught off guard."

Print
Email
|