NEW ORLEANS – High tides in the wake of a weakening Tropical Depression Cindy prompted a voluntary evacuation in a coastal Louisiana town Thursday, and the storm’s effects were being felt throughout the Southeast, with intermittent bands of heavy rain, blasts of high wind and periodic warnings of possible tornadoes in multiple states.
In Alabama, where Gov. Kay Ivey urged residents to stay alert for dangerous weather, two tornado warnings were issued in the Birmingham and Tuscaloosa areas. Social media showed photographs of what appeared to be a funnel cloud near Birmingham. Earlier, authorities had issued warnings of possible tornadoes in Louisiana and Mississippi.
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.
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Cindy moved ashore as a tropical storm near the Louisiana-Texas line early Thursday and continued to pull Gulf moisture inland as it moved north toward Arkansas while weakening to a depression by mid-morning.
“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: authorities said a 10-year-old Missouri boy vacationing with relatives on the Alabama coast who was struck by a log washed in by a large wave. Cindy also caused widespread highway and street flooding and several short-lived tornadoes, but no other deaths or serious injuries were reported as of midday Thursday.
In Louisiana, Edwards said two fishermen who were reported missing in coastal St. Mary Parish had been located and rescued Thursday morning.
Off Texas, the U.S. Coast Guard helped the four-member crew of a shrimp trawler limp back to shore at Freeport after the crew radioed in distress that they were in danger of sinking early Wednesday. A helicopter crew lowered a spare pump to the trawler, allowing the crew to stay afloat while a cutter escorted the vessel to safety.
Authorities continued to warn that driving rains being pulled out of the Gulf could still cause dangerous flash floods.
“That continues to be the threat,” said Ken Graham, of the National 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 10 a.m. CDT Thursday, Cindy was about 165 miles (265 kilometers) northwest of Morgan City and moving to the north at 13 mph (20 kph).
National Weather Service forecasters said the storm had dumped from 2 to 10 inches (50 to 250 millimeters) of rain on various spots along the Gulf Coast from southern Louisiana to the Florida panhandle as of Wednesday. Jim Stefkovich, a meteorologist with the Alabama Emergency Agency, said some parts of coastal Alabama got a foot of rain. “We are not done with the threat yet,” Stefkovich added.
In southwest Louisiana, not far from where Cindy came ashore before dawn Thursday, motorists in trucks drove through knee-high water in the streets of Cameron Parish. Though swamped roads and high tides interfered with transportation, Ashley Buller, an assistant in the parish emergency office, said there were no reports of major flooding.
“We haven’t heard of water getting into homes,” Buller said. “Mostly a few downed trees, power outages.”
The Mississippi coast received some of the heaviest rain. In Gulfport, Mississippi, Kathleen Bertucci said heavy rains Wednesday sent about 10 inches (250 millimeters) of water into her business, which sells and installs granite countertops.
“It’s pretty disgusting, but I don’t have flood insurance because they took me out of the flood zone,” said Bertucci, whose store is near a bayou.
In West Virginia, forecasters warned of possible flooding, damaging wind gusts and severe thunderstorms once what remains of Cindy arrives and merges with another storm front later in the week. Last June, torrential rains and flooding claimed 23 lives in West Virginia.
Some threats could be lurking in the flood waters, Alabama state officials warned: Floating colonies of fire ants could form in the gushing surge of water, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System said in a statement.
And in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, there was another worry in a neighborhood where streets, and a few homes, had flooded Thursday morning.
“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.”