- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 10, 2009


DAUPHIN ISLAND, Ala. (AP) — Tropical Storm Ida sloshed ashore with rain and gusty winds Tuesday before weakening to a depression, leaving weather-hardened Gulf Coast residents largely unscathed.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Ida’s center first touched land on Dauphin Island before heading across Mobile Bay toward the Alabama mainland.

Top sustained winds dropped to near 35 mph (55 mph) as Ida weakened and moved northeast at about 9 mph (15 kph). It was expected to turn east and follow the Florida Panhandle before being absorbed by a front Wednesday.

Tropical storm warnings were discontinued across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Forecasters said the storm had already spread most of its heavy rain onshore along the Gulf Coast ahead of Ida’s center.

“The only thing it did to us is knock out the power,” resident Jimmy Wentworth said as he sipped coffee outside the Ship&Shore convenience store. “Our houses and people are fine. I’m fine.”

The storm had shut down nearly a third of oil and natural gas production in the Gulf as companies moved workers ahead of Ida. Still, demand was so low due to the economic downturn that energy prices barely budged Tuesday. Oil companies were expected to fly workers back out to platforms relatively quickly to restart operations.

Scattered power outages were reported, but water that filled parking lots and roadsides in coastal Alabama late Monday was gone by daybreak Tuesday. The rain had stopped, but the winds were still brisk, whipping palm fronds and whistling through doors. On the beach, dry sand blew like snow in the glow of lights.

The storm left some debris and standing water in the streets on Dauphin Island but did not do much other damage.

Ankle-deep water pooled on roads in the island’s lower-lying west end, where many residents had left their homes before Ida hit. A police officer standing guard said the extent of the damage was unknown.

Atlanta resident Mike White drove down Monday to see the storm and was watching breakers crash at Gulf Shores early Tuesday. The sky was clear overhead but there were clouds all around.

“This is spectacular,” White said. “It’s almost like we are in the eyewall.”

In Orange Beach, east of Mobile Bay near the Florida state line, hotel desk clerk Frank Worley said Ida came ashore more like a thunderstorm than a hurricane.

“It was a lot of waves and wind, but it wasn’t very harsh,” he said. “There’s a few people driving up and down the roads, but no one on the beach.”

Paula Tillman, a spokeswoman for the emergency operations agency in Baldwin County on the east side of Mobile Bay, said there were no reports of damage on the Alabama coast.

“So far, so good,” she said.

The sun was out in Mississippi’s easternmost coastal county, where authorities said the storm was pretty much over and water was already receding from about two dozen local roads that had flooded.

Patrick Keene, 71, and his wife, Kathie, live in a doublewide trailer in the shadow of the beach front home in Pascagoula, Miss., that they are rebuilding four years after Hurricane Katrina.

While his wife retreated to their son’s home across the state Monday night, Keene and his dog rode out the storm in the trailer.

“We get summer squalls frequently that are as bad as this one,” he said.

Few people had evacuated or sought refuge along Alabama’s coast ahead of the former hurricane that once had potent winds over 100 mph. Officials said fewer than 70 people were in shelters that opened in Mobile and Baldwin counties, with a population of 565,000.

Ida started moving across the Gulf as the third hurricane of this year’s quiet Atlantic tropical season, which ends Dec. 1.

Rain and some flooding were the biggest threats. Forecasters said up to 8 inches could fall in some areas, with most of the coast getting between 3 and 6 inches.

Earlier in the week, a low-pressure system that the hurricane may have played a role in attracting had triggered flooding and landslides in El Salvador that killed at least 130 people. Near New Orleans, a 70-year-old man was feared drowned when trying to help two fishermen whose boat had broken down in the Mississippi River on Monday, said Maj. John Marie, a Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s spokesman.

In Florida, Pensacola Beach appeared largely undamaged Tuesday morning, with the main road leading across it open and clear of water and sand.

Ronnie Powell, headed to his construction job on the beach, wasn’t impressed with Ida.

“We’ve had thunderstorms worse than that,” he said.

Reeves reported from Gulf Shores, Ala. Associated Press Writers Melissa Nelson and Bill Kaczor in Pensacola and Mike Kunzelman in Pascagoula, Miss., contributed to this report.

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