Isidore drenches Gulf Coast, brings rains, tornadoes inland

Friday, September 27, 2002

DELACROIX, La. -- Tropical Storm Isidore blew ashore Thursday with near hurricane-force wind, spinning off tornadoes, swamping the Gulf Coast with 15 inches of rain and cutting 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.

Sliding north

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.

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.

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