- Associated Press - Sunday, September 4, 2011

SAUCIER, Miss. Tropical Storm Lee dumped more than a foot of rain on New Orleans and spun off tornadoes elsewhere Sunday as its center came ashore in a slow crawl north that raised fears of inland flash flooding in the Deep South and beyond.

Areas of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi near the coast reported scattered wind damage and flooding, but evacuations appeared to be in the hundreds rather than the thousands and New Orleans’ levees were doing their job, just after the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s arrival that swamped the city.

National Hurricane Center specialist Robbie Berg said Lee’s flash flood threat could be more severe as the rain moves from the flatter Gulf region into the rugged Appalachians.

Closer to the Gulf, the water is “just going to sit there a couple of days,” he said. “Up in the Appalachians you get more threat of flash floods - so that’s very similar to some of the stuff we saw in Vermont.”

Vermont is still cleaning up and digging out dozens of communities that were damaged and isolated last week when heavy rain from the remains of Hurricane Irene quickly flooded mountain rivers.

No deaths had been directly attributed to Tropical Storm Lee, though a body boarder in Galveston, Texas, drowned after being pulled out to sea in heavy surf churned up by Lee. A man in Mississippi was injured when authorities said he was struck by lightning that traveled through a phone line.

The vast, soggy system spent hours during the weekend hovering in the northernmost Gulf of Mexico before its center finally crossed into Louisiana west of New Orleans, pelting a wide swath of coastline.

At 5 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, the National Hurricane Center said Lee had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph. Its center was about 110 miles west-northwest of New Orleans, moving north-northeast at 5 mph.

Some of the damage on the Gulf Coast, where tropical storms are an almost yearly event, appeared to come from spinoff tornadoes that touched down in southern Mississippi and Alabama.

Dena Hickman said her home in Saucier, Miss., was damaged overnight by what she believes was a tornado. It happened too fast for her to get her 12-year-old daughter, who uses a wheelchair, out of her bed and into a safer place.

“I laid on top of her to try to protect her. It all happened so quickly I couldn’t do anything else,” she said.

Almost 13 inches of rain fell in New Orleans by 7 a.m. Sunday. Downpours caused some street flooding Saturday and Sunday, but pumps were sucking up the water and sending it into Lake Pontchartrain.

Flooding in Livingston Parish forced an estimated 200 families from their homes, said Mark Benton, parish director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness.

A possible tornado struck southern Mobile County in Alabama, snapping oak limbs, knocking out power and damaging at least one home. No injuries were reported, but the blast awoke Frank Ledbetter and ripped up the sign for his art gallery.

“It just got louder and louder and louder. I woke my wife up and said, ‘It’s a tornado.’ We just dove into the closet in the bedroom,” he said.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Greg Flynn said flooding was reported in Mississippi’s six southernmost counties, with some homes flooded with an inch or two of water in coastal Jackson County. Shelters were opened in Jackson and Hancock counties, but few people were using them.

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