Tropical Storm Lee stalls, dumps on Gulf Coast

JEAN LAFITTE, La. — Bands of heavy rain and strong wind gusts from Tropical Storm Lee knocked out power to thousands in Louisiana and Mississippi on Saturday and prompted evacuations in bayou towns like Jean Lafitte, where water was lapping at the front doors of some homes.

The sluggish storm stalled offshore for several hours before meandering to the north and west in the evening. Its center was forecast to move onshore overnight.

The storm threatened to dump more than a foot of rain across the Gulf Coast and into the Southeast in coming days. No injuries were reported, but there were scattered instances of water entering low-lying homes and businesses in Louisiana.

To the east, coffers were suffering at many coastal businesses that depend on a strong Labor Day weekend. Alabama beaches that would normally be packed were largely empty, and rough seas closed the Port of Mobile. Mississippi's coastal casinos, however, were open and reporting brisk business.

In Jean Laffite, water was a foot deep under Eva Alexie's house, which is raised about 8 feet off the flat ground.

"I should be used to this," said Alexie, a 76-year-old storm veteran who lost a home to Hurricane Ike in 2008. "It happens pretty often. I just thank God it won't be getting in my house this time."

The center of the slow-moving storm was about 65 miles south-southwest of Lafayette, La., on Saturday evening, spinning intermittent bands of stormy weather, alternating with light rain and occasional sunshine.

Its maximum sustained winds dropped in the late afternoon then stayed at 50 mph for several hours in the evening, and their intensity was expected to decrease further by today. Tropical storm warnings stretched from the Louisiana-Texas state line to Destin.

The National Weather Service in Slidell said parts of New Orleans received between 6 and 9 inches of rain between Thursday morning and Saturday afternoon, and that some coastal Mississippi areas reported more than 6 inches. Nearly 10 inches had fallen in Pascagoula, Miss.

The Entergy utility company reported more than 37,000 customer outages at one point Saturday morning but that was down to below 18,000 by afternoon as the utility restored electricity. Cleco Corp., another major utility, reported 3,500 outages.

In New Orleans, sporadic downpours caused some street flooding in low-lying areas early Saturday, but pumps were sucking up the water and sending it into Lake Pontchartrain. Lee's surge so far had not penetrated levees along the coast, said National Weather Service forecaster Robert Ricks in Slidell, La.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu warned residents not to let their guard down, saying: "We're not out of the woods. Don't go to sleep on this storm."

Katia downgraded

Hurricane Katia has weakened to a tropical storm far out at sea, but it could regain hurricane strength as it chugs westward. Late Saturday night, Katia had maximum sustained winds of 70 mph. Fluctuations in strength were expected, and forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane center said it could become a hurricane again at any time.

Tropical Storm Lee stalls, dumps on Gulf Coast 09/04/11 [Last modified: Sunday, September 4, 2011 12:58am]

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