Katrina floods downtown Mobile, beaches, bayous|
MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Hurricane Katrina's surging floodwaters swept over cars and roads and turned downtown buildings into stark concrete islands Monday as its pounding rains and destructive winds hit coastal Alabama. Moving north, it downgraded to a tropical storm, but still raised the threat of tornadoes and more washed-out roads.
Meanwhile, Gov. Bob Riley announced Monday evening that he received approval from President Bush to declare parts of southwest Alabama federal disaster areas. The disaster declaration means federal and state assistance will be available to help governments in Mobile, Baldwin, Washington, Clarke, Choctaw and Sumter counties recover costs for debris removal and other hurricane-relief efforts.
Individual storm victims in Mobile, Baldwin and Washington counties also were allowed to request federal aid.
The port city flooding matched its worst on record in nearly 90 years, but damage to Gulf resorts appeared nowhere near the wreckage left by Ivan last September.
Two people died in a Washington County wreck attributed to heavy rains from the storm, which left nearly 400,000 homes and businesses without power, mostly in Mobile and Baldwin counties and reaching as far as Birmingham and Tuscaloosa.
Some 6,000 in along west Alabama avoided Katrina's fringes by heading to shelters, as the storm spiraled northward through central Mississippi.
While more than half the state was under torndado watch, emergency officials mostly dealt with hundreds of fallen trees and downed power lines. No major damages were reported.
Not as lethal as originally feared, Katrina nevertheless ripped away roofs, tore down trees and knocked out power — the latest in a string of violent tropical systems to force a massive evacuation and wreak havoc in south Alabama.
"We've gone through quite a 24 hours. Our Gulf Coast has been beaten and battered," Riley said.
Other parts of Alabama braced for Katrina — once a terrifying Category 5 but down slightly to a 4 at landfall around 5 a.m. CT in Louisiana, then dropping to a tropical storm with 65 mph winds by nightfall. As the storm moved north, new shelters opened and emergency officials warned not to be complacent.
"We are in a tornado path in general," said Sissy Langham, director of the Greene County EMA. "It's a tornado alley through here."
Dauphin Island, with its long record of storm batterings, experienced flooding and some power poles and trees knocked down, but, "it's still here," said town clerk Ginger Simpson. "It'll perk back up again. It may take awhile."
Schools will remain closed Tuesday in Baldwin and Mobile Counties, where dawn-to-dusk curfews were in place in most cities.
The flooding was severe in downtown Mobile and bayou communities, with water up to the roofs of cars in many areas. The floodwaters were recorded at 11 feet at Mobile, matching the worst previous flood level set in 1917, according to the National Weather Service.
Near Mobile's old City Hall, only the heads of parking meters peeked out in a row. Whole intersections in the port city were under a sea of chopping waves. Closer to the coast, an emergency vehicle was lost in floodwaters and crews in boats looked for flood victims.
In Bayou La Batre, a fishing village in south Mobile County, floodwaters forced some residents from their homes, according to Kim Stringfellow of the Independent Church of God, which opened a makeshift shelter for church members and flood victims.
Stringfellow said police brought in a woman with five children fleeing a flooded home on Little River Road.
"She said she was in water up to her chin," Stringfellow said. "We'll put them up until the storm passes."
Some icons of historic Mobile seemed to survive with only minor scrapes: The majestic live oaks that form a canopy over Government Street lost a few limbs but were mostly intact.
On the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay, however, surging baywaters ransacked piers and flooded the grand homes along the normally serene bayfront. At the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach resorts, flooding was extensive but appeared not to cause severe damage to condo towers or beach property, as Ivan did last September.
While motels across the state were filled with the exodus of evacuees from the Gulf, a number of schools around the state, including the University of Alabama, closed Monday as a precaution.
In Irvington in south Mobile County, Angela Grice said the hurricane ripped about half the shingles off her home, which is located across from the small airport serving Bayou La Batre. She said one of the airport hangar's had its side blown off by the storm.
Grice said her family usually evacuates for hurricanes, but she was glad they stayed home this time because Katrina blew open some doors.
"We nailed them shut with two-by-fours. The winds are howling," she said. "But I'm glad we did stay."
A few residents stuck it out near the beach. Tyler Dahlgren and his wife, Kim, brought an elderly aunt from Biloxi, Miss., on Sunday to ride out Katrina at their one-story home on an Orange Beach canal about a mile from the Gulf. By morning, as rain poured, canal water stood about a foot high on three sides of the home.
"The only thing I'm concerned about is the water," he said. "It can come up two or three more feet and we'll still be OK."
Dahlgren repairs boat propellers — a busy industry since Ivan left coastal waters filled with storm debris last September.
"There's been a lot of stuff floating around in the water and there'll be a lot more now," he said.
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