Monday, November 9, 2009

Hurricane Ida

Some Gulf Coast residents hunkered down at home and in shelters Monday while others ventured outside to watch the approach of a rare late-season tropical storm that brought the potential for high winds, flooding and up to 8 inches of rain in some places. After a quiet Atlantic storm season, many took the year's first threat in stride. "We can ride it out right here," said T.J. Covacevich, 50, who wore a "Hurricane Hunter" T-shirt as he tied down his powerboat in a Biloxi, Miss., harbor. A rain-packed low-pressure system that Hurricane Ida may have played a role in attracting triggered flooding and landslides in El Salvador that killed at least 130 people. Near New Orleans, a 70-year-old man was feared drowned Monday when trying to help two fishermen whose boat had broken down in the Mississippi River, said Maj. John Marie, a Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's spokesman. A wave knocked him into the water. Monday evening, Ida was located about 40 miles (60 km) southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and about 125 miles (200 km) south-southwest of Pensacola. It was moving north-northwest near 17 mph (28 kph) and was expected to make land late Monday or early Tuesday. An observation site near the mouth measured a gust at 74 mph. Ida had been the third hurricane of this year's Atlantic season, which ends Dec. 1, but weakened with maximum sustained winds near 70 mph (110 kph). The U.S. National Hurricane Center said it was expected to weaken further before making landfall along the Gulf Coast. Rain was already falling along the coastline and winds had kicked up the surf. Nancy Box, 68, of Gulf Shores, Ala., said she hoped the storm fizzled but did not want to chance riding it out in her elevated town house on the beach. "They said the waves were going to be pretty high," she said. "The last time there was a storm, they came over the berm, and I don't swim." Forecasters predicted Ida's storm surge could raise water levels 3 to 5 feet above normal. Tropical storm warnings were out across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, where governors declared states of emergency. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist warned that tropical storms can still be deadly. He pointed to Fay, which was blamed for more than a dozen deaths in Florida, Haiti and the Dominican Republic last year. "That thing was a tropical storm and we lost a lot of our fellow Floridians, so it's important to stay vigilant," Crist said outside the state emergency operations center. "We need to be careful." Residents elsewhere in the Southeast braced for heavy rain. In north Georgia, which saw historic flooding in September, forecasters said up to 4 more inches could soak the already-saturated ground. Two Chevron Corp. workers had to be rescued early Monday from an oil rig about 80 miles south of New Orleans that was in danger of toppling as Ida churned up high seas. They were not hurt. There were no plans for mandatory evacuations, but authorities in some coastal areas opened shelters and encouraged people near the water or in mobile homes to leave. Many schools closed, and several cruise ships were delayed as the U.S. Coast Guard closed Gulf Coast ports. On Dauphin Island in the Gulf of Mexico south of Mobile, Ala., Bobbie Buerger, owner of Ship & Shore Supplies, a general store that sells everything from groceries to fishing supplies to hardware, said she was staying. "I'm going to try my best to hang through it. It's not been bad yet," she said. "There's been people buying candles and bread, the essentials. But there hasn't been anybody leaving yet." In Robertsdale, Ala., a handful of evacuees showed up at the Baldwin County Coliseum, which had enough room to shelter 3,800 people. In Louisiana and Mississippi, officials were concerned about hundreds of people still living in federally issued trailers and mobile homes after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Some storm-hardened residents of Bayou La Batre, Ala., who had lived through Katrina rolled their eyes at the mention of the tropical storm. Rick McClendon, the owner of the Bayou Shirt Co., says he and other residents refuse to scramble. "We're not panicking. After you go through Katrina, it's got to be a big storm to panic. And this isn't," he said.


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