- Associated Press - Monday, September 5, 2011

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A man drowned when he was swept away by floodwaters spawned by the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee in Mississippi, authorities said Monday.

The death of John Howard Anderson Jr., 57, was the first reported so far as a direct result of the steady rains dumped by Lee. A body boarder in Texas drowned after being pulled out to sea by heavy surf churned up by Lee, and the Coast Guard was searching for a boy swept away by rough surf off the Alabama coast.

Tishomingo County Coroner Mack Wilemon said Mr. Anderson, of Corinth, Miss., drowned about 11 p.m. Sunday. Tishomingo County is in the northeastern corner of the state.

Mr. Anderson was staying on a house boat in the marina of Coleman Park. A creek that naturally flows over the entrance of the park was swollen with floodwaters when Mr. Anderson and two others tried to cross the water in a car. They had gotten out of the car and were in the process of being rescued when Mr. Anderson was swept away.

His body was found in the woods about 300 yards away.

Meanwhile Monday, Lee was dumping steady rain across the South, causing scattered flooding and power outages. Forecasters warned that the slow-moving system could cause inland flooding in areas with hills or mountains in the coming days. Isolated tornadoes also were reported in Mississippi and Alabama, though no widespread damage or deaths were reported. Flash flood and tornado watches were in effect across several states.

By Monday, the heaviest rain was in east Mississippi and pushing into Alabama.

“Right now, it’s a big rainmaker,” said Marc McAllister, a meteorologist with National Weather Service in Jackson, Miss.

Chris Mims, a spokesman for the city of Jackson, said 45 families in an apartment complex were taken to a storm shelter because of water from a flooded creek that came near the building.

The storm dumped 8 to 10 inches of rain in central Mississippi before slacking off as it weakened and pushed to the east. As much as a foot fell in parts of New Orleans, and even more in other areas.

Just west of the Florida Panhandle, Alabama’s main beaches in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach alternately filled with and emptied of tourists as squalls from Lee moved across the coast on Labor Day. Many vacationers spent the morning packing for the drive north toward heavy storms moving across the region.

Beaches were empty about 35 miles west on Dauphin Island as waves broke beneath houses standing on stilts and splintered lumber floated in the surf. Much of the island’s main road was flooded and covered with sand, jellyfish and foam washed in by Lee. Customers trickled into the town’s largest store on what should have been a busy day.

“It’s been kind of boring,” said Tabitha Miller, a clerk at Ship and Shore. “It’s not killing us, though, since we’re the only gig in town.”

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.”

The system was moving sluggishly on a track that would run it up the Tennessee Valley on Tuesday. It already had dropped nearly 4 inches of rain in Pike County, Ky., by Monday morning. Flash-flood watches were issued for parts of both Tennessee and Kentucky, and forecasters warned that stream flooding and mudslides were possible.

So far, the weather has not prompted any evacuations of Labor Day campers at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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 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 Sunday.

Her family weathered the storm, but it damaged shingles on their roof, flipped a 34-foot camper on its side, ripped off the roof of a cinder-block building that houses a water pump and pulled the doors off of a metal shop building. Harrison County officials said five homes were damaged by the suspected twister, but no injuries were reported.

As much as a foot of rain fell in parts of New Orleans and caused some street flooding, but the city’s 24 pumps were sucking up the water and sending it into Lake Pontchartrain. About 200 families had to be evacuated because of flooding in Livingston Parish.

In Plaquemines Parish, authorities were planning to cut a hole in a levee to drain water from a main highway. The parish, south of New Orleans, sits on a sliver of land dotted with oil and gas companies and is protected by two levees — a Mississippi River levee and a so-called back levee.

Parish spokesman Kurt Fromherz said wind from Tropical Storm Lee pushed water into Barataria Bay, which caused water to overtop the back levee in low places. Once the wind shifts, crews will cut a hole in the levee to drain water from Louisiana 23, the main artery through the parish, Mr. Fromherz said.

Associated Press writers Jay Reeves in Dauphin Island, Ala., and Randall Dickerson in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report.

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