Lee causes twisters, flooding in South
By HOLBROOK MOHR and DORIE TURNER
ATLANTA (AP) — The destructive remnants of Tropical Storm Lee rolled north Tuesday after spawning tornadoes, sweeping several people away, flooding roads and knocking out power to thousands across the South. More rain was expected in parts of Tennessee, where records have already been broken.
Flash flood watches and warnings were in effect early Tuesday from the southern end of the Appalachians northeastward into New England, according to the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center. Tornado watches were in effect for parts of North Carolina.
Rain kept falling in Tennessee early Tuesday after a wet Monday. Chattanooga went from its driest-ever month in August, with 0.01 inch of rain to a record one-day deluge of 8.16 inches by 5 p.m. Monday. By dawn Tuesday, 10 inches of rain had fallen in the state’s fourth-largest city.
Numerous roads were flooded, and the soggy ground meant even modest winds were toppling trees.
“We have had problems with trees coming down, mainly because the soil is so saturated with water,” said National Weather Service forecaster David Gaffin in Morristown, Tenn.
To the south, rain in Alabama flooded numerous Birmingham roads. The storm also caused a roof to collapse at Pinson Valley High School outside Birmingham, according to The Birmingham News. No injuries were reported.
As many as 200,000 lost power across Alabama as the storm moved through, with most of the outages in the Birmingham area, Alabama Power spokeswoman Keisa Sharpe said. By early Tuesday, the number of outages was down to 187,000, she said. Power outages were also reported in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina.
The storm system churned up treacherous waters across the South. In Mississippi, a man drowned while trying to cross a swollen creek, while authorities called off the search for a missing swimmer presumed dead off Alabama. Another man was missing after trying to cross a creek in suburban Atlanta.
Chainsaws and blue tarps were coming out in Georgia neighborhoods hit by suspected twisters that ripped off siding and shingles and sent trees crashing through roofs. The Georgia Emergency Management Agency said about 100 homes were damaged there in Cherokee County, about 30 miles north of Atlanta.
To the southeast in Norcross, a man was swept away when he tried to cross a swollen creek between apartment complexes, Gwinnett County Fire Battalion Chief Dan Rowland said. The search was called off at nightfall, and body recovery operations were going to start Tuesday morning. A companion to the missing man was caught in the creek but managed to make it out of the water.
Mickey Swims and his wife hid in the basement of their house in Woodstock, Ga., as an apparent tornado passed.
“I heard it and saw the trees go around and around,” Swims said. “I knew when I heard it that if it touched down, it was going to be bad.”
Swims owns the Dixie Speedway, where he estimated the storm caused $500,000 worth of damage. That includes about 2,000 feet of chain-link fence uprooted from its concrete base, walls blown out of a bathroom and concession stands and tractor-trailer trucks turned into mangled messes.
Areas of Louisiana and Mississippi that bore the brunt of Lee over the weekend were also digging out. Lee’s center came ashore Sunday in Louisiana, dumping up to a foot of rain in parts of New Orleans and other areas. Despite some street flooding, officials said New Orleans’ 24-pump flood control system was doing its job.
Heavy rain fell in Mississippi on Monday, and a swollen creek near an apartment complex in Jackson prompted officials to move 45 families into a storm shelter. In Louisiana’s Livingston Parish, about 200 families were evacuated because of flooding.
The man who died in Mississippi, 57-year-old John Howard Anderson Jr., had been in a car with two other people trying to cross a rain-swollen creek Sunday night. Tishomingo County Coroner Mack Wilemon said Anderson was outside of the car and couldn’t hold onto a rope thrown by a would-be rescuer.
Jonathan Weeks, a 48-year-old salesman from Plantersville who owns a vacation home nearby, said he helped pull two people to shore and tried to save Anderson.
Weeks said he and his wife saw a van crossing the creek, and he happened to have a rope in the tool box of his truck.
“It all happened so fast. They were in there trying to get out and panicking. The power was out so everything was dark,” Weeks recalled in a phone interview Monday.
“We threw them a rope and tied it to a tree,” Weeks said. “We got two of them to the bank and were trying to help the driver. We had him on the rope and were trying to pull him in, but I don’t think he was able to hold on.”
Residents in Lee’s wake are worrying about the effects of soggy ground. Part of a levee holding back a lake in Mississippi’s Rankin County gave way, endangering some homes and a sod farm. Rankin County Road Manager George Bobo said officials could order evacuations of the few homes if the situation gets worse. The indention left by the levee slide didn’t go all the way through to the water, though.
Sharon Spears, a 54-year-old special education teacher, stood in her front yard Monday looking up at the red dirt exposed from the levee slide.
“I’m concerned,” Spears said. “I won’t sleep any tonight.”
Sandy Shamburger said a full breach would ruin his sod farm.
“It would be devastating. It would probably be the end of Rankin Sod,” he said.
In Gulf Shores, Ala., surf churned up by the storm proved treacherous. The Coast Guard suspended its search for a swimmer who went missing Sunday. Local authorities were transitioning to efforts to find his body, said Maj. Anthony Lowery of the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office.
Elsewhere, the heavy rain made for a dud of a Labor Day holiday as Gulf Coast beaches mostly cleared of tourists. On Monday morning, the main road on Alabama’s Dauphin Island was flooded and covered with sand, jellyfish and foam washed in by Lee. Customers trickled in to the town’s largest store on what should have been a busy day.
“It’s been kind of boring,” said Tabitha Miller, a clerk at Ship and Shore. “It’s not killing us though since we’re the only gig in town.”