Gustav brings high wind, coastal flooding to Miss.

Published 11:56 pm Monday, September 1, 2008

Hurricane Gustav brought driving winds to the Mississippi coast Monday, along with a storm surge that flooded homes and inundated the main highways to coastal towns devastated by Katrina three years ago.

There were no immediate reports of storm-related injuries in the hurricane whose impact was mild when compared with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina three years ago.

Greg Flynn of Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said Monday that the National Hurricane Center now says the storm surge at Waveland, on the Louisiana side of the state, reached 11 feet, below the earlier estimate of 15 feet. Flynn said the center said the storm surge at Pascagoula, in Jackson County on the eastern side of the state, was 6-1/2 feet.

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Flynn said a fatal auto accident in Pike County was being listed as a storm death. He had no details on the wreck or the name of the person killed.

The main road into southern Hancock County, Mississippi Highway 43, was closed due to flooding, effectively cutting off the area. Flynn said at least three people near the Jordan River in Hancock County had to be rescued from flood waters.

In Harrison County, white caps topped a sea wall and swamped coastal U.S. Highway 90 with murky, debris filled water. The highway later reopened.

Wind gusts were recorded at well over 50 mph. An abandoned building in Gulfport collapsed and there were a few flooded homes in Biloxi.

A white sailboat, “the Wind Song,” was left grounded in the middle of sand-covered U.S. 90 along Biloxi’s casino row. The boat, apparently a 14-footer, had a hole in the side.

Debris blew elsewhere along the highway, which had taken on storm surge from Gustav.

A trailer used as an office building bobbed on its side in the parking lot of the Gulfport Marina and the roof of a warehouse peeled away. Only the top of a sports utility vehicle poked out of the water and a green portable restroom floated through the parking lot nearby. Street signs flapped in the wind and tree limbs littered roads and yards.

The ground floor of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Biloxi was flooded during the storm surge from Gustav and wind-whipped water continued to splash into its parking garage Monday afternoon. Hurricane Katrina smashed the casino three years ago shortly before it was to open.

Bobby Tuber, the casino’s facility-grounds manager, said the storm put about 30 inches of water in the building but the casino itself, located on an upper level, was not damaged.

“We’re fine. We’ll come out all well,” Tuber said as he and others used a pump and a large hose to remove the water.

In Jackson County, some 15 roads were impassable due to high water. In southwest Mississippi near the Louisiana border, debris temporarily blocked Interstate 59 from Picayune to Poplarville.

Flynn said 100 homes flooded in Pearlington, a town near the Louisiana border that was entirely submerged during Katrina because it was so close to the Gulf of Mexico and the river and also sat directly under the eye of the storm. Every building flooded and the community had an estimated average storm surge height of about 19 feet, not counting the wave action.

Numerous tornado and flash flood alerts were posted in south Mississippi during the day Monday as fast-moving bands of wind and rain raced across the region.

Gov. Haley Barbour said that while Gustav’s punch was nothing like the disaster of Katrina, there was damage and flooding and the danger continued.

Asked at a press briefing when the Mississippi coast families in shelters should prepare to return home, Barbour replied: “Not now.”

“There’s still a lot of bad weather on the coast. The storm surge is very near its height,” Barbour said. “’People do not need to go back now. People ought to think tomorrow is the first day to think about going home.”

He said there were thousands of soldiers, state troopers and local police keeping watch on evacuees’ homes and property.

Barbour also said that many roads are covered by storm waters and, once that water drains, there could be weak spots that would trigger accidents.

At least 11,000 power outages were reported along the coast, with roughly 8,000 of those in Harrison County, Flynn said.

Jackson County officials implemented a dusk-to-dawn curfew, effective immediately.

Bands of rain and wind, some with heavy rainfall, covered most of the state from north of Jackson down to the coast. A tropical storm warning was posted throughout the day Monday for western and central Mississippi and northeast Louisiana.

More than 12,000 people were living in shelters in Mississippi, including 3,134 in the state’s six southernmost counties, Flynn said.

One of them, Wayne “Old Trader” Smith, 61, had thought about riding out the storm in a camper trailer he owns, but quickly changed his mind when it began to rock in the wind.

“It started rocking and it hadn’t even gotten bad yet, so I said I had better get out of here,” Smith said.

He put on his yellow rain coat and a baseball cap, hopped on beach tricycle and headed for a fire station in Gulfport. A firefighter brought him to a shelter at an elementary school where nearly 180 others were waiting out the storm.

While much of Gustav’s fury was focused on the Louisiana coast, Mississippi officials took no chances. First Lt. Andy Thaggard, a Mississippi National Guard spokesman, said 2,600 soldiers stood ready Monday to respond as soon as the storm had passed.