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Isidore Storms Through Gulf Coast

September 27, 2002

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DELACROIX, La. (AP) _ Tropical Storm Isidore blew ashore Thursday with near hurricane-force wind, spinning off tornadoes, swamping the Gulf Coast with 15 inches of rain and knocking out power to more than 200,000 homes and businesses.

Thousands fled their homes in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama before the storm reached land at 3 a.m. Floodwaters swept through houses in communities across the region and rose to the windshields of cars in low-lying New Orleans.

``I don’t know whose they are, but I’ve got three recliner chairs in my yard,″ Susan Serpas said in Delacroix, a fishing town east of New Orleans, where screen doors, mailboxes and furniture bobbed in 3 feet of water.

Gov. Mike Foster said the storm did at least $18 million in damage in Louisiana, including $3.7 million in lost sugar cane. Foster said the damage estimate will grow, and he was seeking a federal disaster declaration.

Isidore was packing wind up to 65 mph when it arrived, below the 74 mph threshold of a hurricane. The storm lost its punch and was downgraded to a tropical depression as it moved past Jackson, Miss., in late afternoon.

Forecasters said the storm would slide into the Ohio Valley by the weekend, bringing heavy rain to the Midwest and the Northeast. Up to 8 inches of rain were forecast in Tennessee.

Several tornadoes spun out of the storm and touched down in the Florida Panhandle. One hit a barn near Graceville, Fla., injuring a farmer, while another damaged more than 20 homes in Santa Rosa Beach.

Mississippi officials also said floodwaters also kept them from reaching a 67-year-old man who died of cardiac arrest early Thursday.

The wind toppled trees in Alabama and gusts of 40 mph hit Birmingham, more than 200 miles from the coast. Most schools in the region were closed.

Mississippi kept its floating casinos shuttered. One, the Treasure Bay in Biloxi, sustained a 12-foot gash when the surging sea drove its entrance ramp deep into one of its walls. Backup security cables were the only thing keeping the casino barge from floating away.

``This was totally unexpected, this much water,″ Bernard Carlson, 71, said as he watched the swollen Tchoutacabouffa River from the upstairs porch of his flooded home near Biloxi. City officials estimated 50 to 75 homes were damaged by floodwaters.

Foster said Port Fourchon appeared to be hit hard by surging tides. The huge oil terminal on the Gulf Coast is a clearinghouse for about 13 percent of the nation’s crude.

``Fourchon, I am told, is a lake right now,″ Foster said.

More than 200,000 customers lost power during the storm, including 87,000 in Louisiana (half of them in greater New Orleans), 50,000 in Florida, 47,000 in Alabama and more than 20,000 in Mississippi.

As the storm passed over Houma, La., tree limbs fell on utility lines and power went out throughout the town. Before daylight, rescue crews were out taking people from a public housing project.

``We woke up and found 2 feet of water in our apartment,″ said Laquincy Nixon as he walked out with his son and daughter in his arms. ``I lost everything _ everything.″

Isidore was far weaker than it was when it hit Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula as a hurricane over the weekend, killing at least two people. Officials in New Orleans and Mobile, Ala., said their cities weathered the storm well.

Florida officials were watching another storm in the Caribbean. Tropical Storm Lili was downgraded Thursday to a tropical depression, but was expected to soak Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica by the weekend. The storm could strengthen by the weekend and was moving to the northwest, toward Cuba.

Auburn University soils expert James Hairston said Isidore’s rains, while welcome, will not pull the South out of its five-year drought. Only extended rains over the next several months will do that.

Except for swamped and abandoned cars, New Orleans streets were largely empty Thursday. In the French Quarter, a dozen people were holed up in Molly’s at the Market bar.

``The owner specifically said we don’t close _ ever _ unless they make us,″ bartender Jolie Meaux said. ``Better to be stuck in a bar than at home watching TV.″


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