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Tropical Storm Bill hammers Gulf Coast
NEW ORLEANS -- Tropical Storm Bill pounded the Gulf Coast on Monday, spinning off a tornado that injured four people, forcing evacuations and leaving at least 11,000 homes and businesses without power.
The storm swamped the streets of New Orleans' French Quarter and prompted crews to slam shut the floodgates protecting the low-lying city. Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster declared a statewide emergency, and Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove declared an emergency in three southern counties.
One person was seriously hurt and three suffered minor injuries when the tornado tore up a trailer home in Reserve, 38 miles from New Orleans.
Twenty other trailer homes and a private school gym also were damaged, said Van Gilmore, assistant director of civil defense in St. John the Baptist Parish.
Three fishing vessels in Cat Island Pass, about 60 miles south of New Orleans, called for help and three Coast Guard helicopters flew out to find them, Petty Officer Jonathan McCool said.
About 11,000 Entergy customers were without power late Monday afternoon, spokesman Chanel Lagarde said.
Bill -- the second tropical storm of the year -- had sustained wind of about 60 mph, well short of the 74 mph hurricane threshold.
It spread rain across southeastern Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
Up to a foot of rain was forecast in areas already saturated from previous storms. Though Bill made landfall in central Louisiana, some of the worst rain was in Mississippi. National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Ricks said 12.8 inches fell in the Van Cleave area. Pascagoula, Miss., got 8 inches by noon.
Ricks said the French Quarter, New Orleans' West Bank and lower St. Bernard Parish got some of Louisiana's heaviest rain, -- about 5 to 6 inches over 24 hours. More rain was in the forecast.
Water rose above the curbs in the French Quarter, and streets, bars and restaurants were empty. Most of the city is below sea level; municipal crews were sent out to slide floodgates into place in levees along the lakefront and in the French Quarter. City offices and universities closed early.
At the Original Pierre Maspero's restaurant, manager James Rivas decided to close by 4 p.m. to make sure his staff could get home.
Coastal parishes closed summer camps and government offices, opened storm shelters for residents of low-lying areas and readied sandbags, boats and high-wheeled vehicles.
"Certainly, it's not as dangerous as other storms we've had, but it is a dangerous storm," said Jim Ballow, assistant chief of operations for the Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness.
Pumps were keeping up with the rain in Terrebonne Parish, but a 5.7-foot storm tide flooded some low-lying roads, Parish Manager Al Levron said.
The water was several feet deep around one group of fishing camps, below the raised cabins but swamping any vehicles left on the roads.
"A lot of the recreational camps are owned by people from out of town," he said. "This thing was just declared as a tropical storm yesterday. It was pretty hard for people from Baton Rouge or other parts of the state to come down on such short notice and take care of that."
Much of south and central Alabama had received several inches of rain by Monday afternoon, with some roads flooding and traffic turning hazardous. Red flags warned of riptides at Alabama beach resorts, where tens of thousands arrived for the July Fourth holiday.
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