BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. — Heavy rain and storm surge flooded low-lying streets along the Gulf Coast on Wednesday as a weakening Tropical Storm Cindy pushed inland, leaving more than 300,000 homes and businesses without electricity. One Alabama traffic death was linked to the weather.
Farther out at sea, meanwhile, Tropical Storm Dennis gathered strength in the Caribbean and could become a hurricane by day's end. The two storms were the latest of four to form in a young Atlantic hurricane season that experts fear will be an unusually active one.
“Dennis is the one we’re watching,” said Chamber of Commerce president J. R. Jones in Flomaton, Ala., recalling Hurricane Ivan’s destruction in Alabama and Florida last September. “I hate to wish it on someone else, but we don’t need another one.”
Cindy’s top sustained wind had slowed to 35 mph by late morning, downgrading it to a tropical depression, said the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
The storm damaged roofs in parts of Louisiana and ripped up piers along the Alabama shore. In Mississippi’s coastal Hancock and Jackson counties, 3 to 4 inches of rain and a storm surge of 4 to 6 feet above normal tide combined to flood low-lying coastal roads.
Dennis expected in gulf
Fishermen tied down their boats to protect them from Cindy, but were already keeping watch on the next weather system.
Tropical Storm Dennis was expected to move into the Gulf of Mexico this weekend. It had sustained wind of 70 mph by late morning and could strengthen into a hurricane by the end of the day, the National Hurricane Center said.
It was too early for meteorologists at the hurricane center to say exactly how Dennis would affect the U.S. mainland, but they urged Gulf Coast residents to be prepared.
“Pretty much everyone from the (Florida) Keys all the way to Texas” should be monitoring Dennis’ progress, said meteorologist Chris Hennon.
Fisherman John Hasten of Ocean Springs, Miss., said he planned to move his boat inland to protect it against Dennis, after spending Tuesday night on the craft at a harbor in Biloxi.
“It got raunchy. The water was busting over the seawall,” Hasten said. “You had a screaming wind. The boat bounced and jerked on the lines. The rigging clanged and banged.”
Louisiana hit hardest
Cindy came ashore in southeast Louisiana late Tuesday, crossing the barrier island resort town of Grand Isle, where Mayor David Camardelle reported some roof damage. New Orleans and surrounding areas got 4 inches of rain and 70 mph wind, and there were scattered reports of street flooding.
Louisiana’s Entergy and CLECO utilities said about 260,000 customers lost power. Alabama Power Co. reported up to 35,000 homes and businesses blacked out, while Mississippi Power Co. said an estimated 7,000 lost power during the storm. About 7,600 Gulf Power customers had no electricity in the western Florida Panhandle.
Flights were resuming Wednesday at New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong International Airport and Amtrak planned to restart passenger service to and from New Orleans.
Heavy rain caused isolated flooding in the Florida Panhandle, devastated last year by Hurricane Ivan, but there were no significant problems, said Mike Weaver, Escambia County’s deputy fire chief.
At 11 a.m. ET, Cindy was centered about 50 miles north-northwest of Mobile, Ala., and was heading northeastward at about 14 mph.
Caribbean on alert
Dennis was centered about 255 miles south-southeast of Port au Prince, Haiti, and 440 miles east-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, and was heading toward the west-northwest at around 16 mph, the hurricane center said.
Hurricane warnings were posted for Jamaica and southwestern Haiti, with a hurricane watch extending to the Cayman Islands and Cuba, and tropical storm warnings were raised for the southern coast of the Dominican Republic.
A survey of oil companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico found that 23 petroleum production platforms and six drilling rigs had been evacuated Tuesday interrupting more than 3 percent of the gulf’s normal oil and natural gas production.
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