No longer a hurricane, Tropical Storm Georges remained a menace to parts of the Gulf Coast Tuesday - bringing rain, more rain and a threat of flooding and tornadoes.
Days will pass before some of the multitudes of evacuees return to their homes. When they do, they may find scenes like Beach Boulevard in Pascagoula, where the road was buckled, trees had fallen on houses, columns were knocked over and oyster shells had washed up on lawns."In some areas, there's water to rooftops and 4 to 5 feet of water in many other homes. I've never seen anything like it in more than 50 years," said Jackson County administrator George Touart after a tour of Pascagoula.
As the storm drifted toward the northeast Tuesday, rain continued pouring across sections of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. Three tornadoes had already hit southeastern Alabama but caused no extensive damage.
But in Mississippi, only light rain fell this morning in Pascagoula, with drizzle in nearby Biloxi, and the National Weather Service said sunshine was likely this afternoon.
President Clinton declared an emergency late Monday, and recovery slowly began.
More than 678,000 customers were without power across the coastal states.
Larry Bennefield, president the Board of Supervisors in Harrison County, Miss., said he put crews out on roads shortly after conditions improved Monday afternoon. Not that they could do much in rain and high winds, but "whenever people see you out working on the roads, it gives them a sense of security."
Georges dropped to tropical storm status Monday afternoon, after 11 days as a hurricane. It had blown ashore early Monday on the Mississippi coast with 174 mph gusts and 110 mph sustained wind, but as of early Tuesday its sustained wind had diminished to 45 mph.
At 7 a.m. CDT Tuesday, the center of Georges was located about 20 miles north of Mobile, Ala., moving to the northeast at 7 mph. The slow pace led forecasters to say some areas could receive 25 to 30 inches of rain by the time Georges clears out.
The National Weather Service said the storm would continue to weaken and would likely be downgraded to a tropical depression later Tuesday.
As of 7 a.m. Tuesday, up to 15 inches of rain had fallen on parts of southeastern Mississippi, with 13 inches at Mobile, Ala. More than 20 inches fell on the Florida Panhandle.
After killing more than 300 as it crossed the Caribbean, just two Georges-related fatalities were reported in the United States - a man who died Monday in a New Orleans in a similar fire, and an 86-year-old woman who died while being transported to a Baton Rouge, La., shelter.
It could have been worse. In New Orleans, authorities had feared that heavy rain and an enormous storm surge would submerge a city that is mostly below sea level.
But the storm shifted slightly enough to the east to spare New Orleans major damage.
"Our heart goes out to Mississippi and Alabama. They've taken the punch that was intended for New Orleans," said Lt. Mike Edmonson, a state police spokesman. "We think had this hurricane come into New Orleans, it would have been catastrophic."
Elsewhere, the damage was becoming apparent. Debris littered nearly empty interstates, the wreckage of billboards destroyed by the wind. Road signs were twisted, stoplights dangled, telephone and power poles snapped in half.
- In Alabama, the old highway connecting Mobile's waterfront with Spanish Fort, a stretch of several miles of U.S. 98 adjacent to Mobile Bay, turned into a brown, churning sea. A new restaurant was flooded to its roof line. In Gulf Shores, lumber from shattered beach walkways littered condominium parking lots. One motel, built on stilts over the sand, was cut off from its parking lot when the decking surrounding its ground floor peeled away. The swimming pool was cracked like a china bowl.
- In Shalimar on Florida's Choctawhatchee Bay, a parking garage collapsed, crushing 10 vehicles. A waterspout came ashore Monday near Panama City Beach, destroying five homes.
- In Mississippi, officials began to assess what Georges did to the state's young gambling industry. The Grand Casino Biloxi suffered minor damage, as did the Imperial Palace. At the Beau Rivage, now under construction, windows were blown out and the facade was damaged.