Cindy weakens but still stirs weather over wide swath
Storm comes ashore on Gulf Coast before dawn Thursday
NEW ORLEANS – A suspected tornado near Birmingham, Alabama, flattened businesses and injured one person Thursday, while the mayor of a coastal Louisiana town urged residents to evacuate ahead of a rising tide - two lingering effects of a weakening Tropical Depression Cindy that was fueling harsh weather across the Southeast.
The walls of a liquor store and an oil-change service in Fairfield, west of Birmingham, collapsed in the apparent twister. A fast-food restaurant also was among the damaged businesses. Dean Argo, a spokesman for the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board said one employee of the liquor store was hurt.
Meteorologist Jason Holmes of the National Weather Service said trees were down and buildings were reported damaged along the Interstate 20 corridor on the western outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama's most populous city. The weather service had issued tornado warnings earlier for the Birmingham and Tuscaloosa areas.
Meanwhile, the Gulf Coast was still suffering from the effects of Cindy, a former tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico that crawled ashore early Thursday near the Louisiana-Texas state line. Downgraded to a tropical depression, Cindy weakened as it crossed Louisiana toward Arkansas but a broad circulation around the system swept moist Gulf air over the South, fueling severe weather and pushing up coastal tides.
In the low-lying Louisiana town of Lafitte, south of New Orleans, Mayor Tim Kerner urged residents in and around the town to seek higher ground because of rising water.
"The tide's rolling in. It's getting to a dangerous level," Kerner said. Streets and yards in the town were covered and Kerner worried that homes, even those in parts of town protected by levees, might be flooded. "I'm hoping not," he added.
"Certainly it's not been as bad as we feared. That's the good news, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said in Baton Rouge. "The bad news is it's not over yet."
As a slow-moving tropical storm that formed Tuesday in the Gulf, Cindy was blamed for one death: a 10-year-old boy, Nolan McCabe of St. Louis, Missouri, was vacationing with his family on the Alabama coast when he was hit by a log washed in by a large wave. Cindy also caused widespread coastal highway and street flooding and several short-lived tornadoes, but no other deaths.
In Louisiana, Edwards said two fishermen reported missing in a coastal area were located and rescued Thursday. A day earlier off Texas, the U.S. Coast Guard helped the four-member crew of a shrimp trawler limp to shore at Freeport after the crew radioed in distress amid fears of sinking.
Authorities warn driving rains could still cause dangerous flash floods. "That continues to be the threat," said Ken Graham, of the weather service office near New Orleans. "Not only around the center of Cindy. The impact of rain can be hundreds of miles away."
Heavy rain was forecast to spread over the Tennessee and Ohio valleys on Thursday, then move Friday and Saturday into the central Appalachians. At 4 p.m. CDT Thursday, Cindy was about 45 miles south of Shreveport. It maximum sustained winds of 20 mph and was heading northeast, expected to move into Arkansas Thursday night.
National Weather Service statistics show roughly 12 inches of rain had fallen in some spots along the Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida coasts since Tuesday.
Forecasters warned that flash floods remained a danger as the storm moved north. But Cindy was also bringing rain to an area that needed it. Southeastern Arkansas hadn't seen significant rain in more than a week.
"If there's not so much rain, it could end up being beneficial," corn and rice farmer David Hillman said in Almyra, Arkansas, 55 miles southeast of Little Rock. "A couple inches? Yes. I don't think we'd have a problem with that. Now if we get wind and it knocks the corn down, well, I don't want that."
In southwest Louisiana, not far from where Cindy came ashore before dawn, trucks navigated knee-high water in the streets of Cameron Parish - but there was no serious flooding. "We haven't heard of water getting into homes," said Ashley Buller, an assistant in the parish emergency office. "Mostly a few downed trees, power outages."
In Gulfport, Mississippi, Kathleen Bertucci said about 10 inches of rain water found its way into her business selling granite countertops. "It's pretty disgusting, but I don't have flood insurance because they took me out of the flood zone," Bertucci said.
Some threats could be lurking in the flood waters, including floating colonies of fire ants that Alabama officials warned about in a statement.
And in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, there was another worry in a neighborhood where streets and some homes flooded Thursday.
"One of our safety concerns is alligators," said local neighborhood watch organizer Erin West. "We have several alligators in the nearby ponds and it's springtime and they like to move around during springtime and everything."