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Tropical storm leaves damage

Although Tropical Storm Bill never made it to hurricane status, it did dump quite a bit of rain on the Gulf Coast states.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | BALTIMORE | July 1, 2003

Although Tropical Storm Bill never made it to hurricane status, it did dump quite a bit of rain on the Gulf Coast states on Monday and Tuesday, including between 10 and 12 inches to the east of Pensacola, Fla., said meteorologist Gary Beeler, with the National Weather Service in Mobile, Ala.

"The biggest thing we had was heavy rain," Beeler said. Most flooding was confined to low-lying coastal areas, although some inland areas received between four and eight inches of rain, and road flooding seemed to be perhaps biggest problem, he said.

With wind speeds averaging short of the 60 mph hurricane threshold, Bill failed to cause widespread damage, but it did succeed in knocking down trees and power lines and stirring up a few tornadoes, including one confirmed twister that injured four people in Reserve, La. This twister destroyed a trailer home in which the four people lived, and also damage at least 45 other homes as well as parts of the local school, said Kathy Gilmore, of the St. John the Baptist Parish Emergency Preparedness Office.

The First Baptist Church of Reserve served as an American Red Cross shelter Monday night, said the Rev. Michael Reeves, but since only five people stayed overnight, the Red Cross converted its operation to a family services center on Tuesday. More than 100 people came to the church Tuesday for food and assistance, Reeves said.

Another suspected tornado apparently knocked out the power grid in Hancock County, Miss., according Amy Curruth, spokeswoman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

In Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes in southeastern Louisiana, two levees broke Monday night, causing severe flooding in the town of Montegut. At least 150 homes there were damaged, about half of them severely, said fire chief Spencer Rhodes. The Red Cross set up a shelter at the East Park Recreation Shelter in Houma, where 14 people spent Monday night.

Rhodes said many residents were angrily blaming local and state officials for the collapse of the levees, claiming that they took too long to repair damage to the levee from Hurricane Lili seven months ago. Parts of the levee, Rhodes said, were still fresh and not strong enough to withstand the storm surge.

"Normally the levees could hold the storm surge from a tropical storm," he said. "I know they were working on it, but it sure took them a long time."

Power outages were also prevalent in Louisiana, according to the Web site for Entergy Corp., the state's largest power company. About 179,000 homes lost power Monday night, but a majority had service restored on Tuesday.

The eye of Bill moved to the west of New Orleans, but enough rain fell in the city to cause "sporadic flooding around the city," which including some minor residential flooding, particularly in the Gentilly area, said Tanzie Jones, media relations assistant for the mayor's office. Numerous businesses in the French Quarter were also forced to close because of street flooding, she said.

No damage assessments were yet available for Mississippi, but residential and business damage appeared to be minor, she said, and mostly confined to low-lying coastal areas. Low-elevation areas in Hancock County also had a mandatory evacuation on Monday, although residents were able to return to their home within a few hours.

"We didn't have a tropical storm, we had a rain event," Carruth said. "We didn't have any wind problems."

But flooding was severe enough in three Mississippi coastal counties for Governor Ronnie Musgrove to issue a state disaster declaration on Monday. Louisiana also declared a state of emergency.

The National Weather Service downgraded Bill to a tropical depression Tuesday, as it moved northeast through the deep South and toward Tennessee, the Carolinas and Virginia. Tornado watches were in effect Tuesday in Alabama, Georgia and Florida, and flood watches extended from the Gulf Coast states to Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas and Virginia.


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