Tropical-force winds, rain from Gordon slam into Gulf Coast
Tropical-force winds and rain from fast-moving Gordon smashed into the coastline of Alabama and the western Florida Panhandle on Tuesday evening as the storm made landfall.
Tropical Storm Gordon strengthened some in the final hours as it neared the central Gulf Coast, clocking top sustained winds of 70 mph.
More than 27,000 customers are without power Tuesday night as the storm began pushing ashore. Those outages are mostly in coastal Alabama and include the western tip of the Florida Panhandle around Pensacola, with a few hundred in southeastern Mississippi. The number of outages has been rising rapidly after dark Tuesday night as Tropical Storm Gordon’s wind and rain began to take a toll on the Gulf Coast’s power grid.
Ealier, skies quickly turned dark gray as storms overshadowed Mobile, a port city. Metal chairs were lashed together atop tables outside a restaurant in what’s normally a busy entertainment district, and a street musician played to an empty sidewalk just before the rain began. Conditions were expected to deteriorate westward to New Orleans as the stormed closed in on the coast, possibly becoming the second hurricane to hit the region in less than a year.
Families along the coast filled sandbags, took patio furniture inside and stocked up on batteries and bottled water ahead of Gordon.
John and Robin Berry, vacationing on Dauphin Island, Ala., went to the beach to see the roaring surf before the rain began. Accompanied by their dog Bentley, the couple had to evacuate the beachfront home they had rented for the week because of Gordon.
The staff at The Hotel Whiskey in Pass Christian, Miss. – only about a block from the Gulf of Mexico – were among those carrying out pre-storm preparation rituals. The hotel restaurant planned to stay open Tuesday evening as usual, fortified by sandbags to keep out torrential rains, the manager said.
Gulfport was among communities providing sand and bags to residents, and Kenny Macdonald filled them for himself and older residents. MacDonald said that while such preparations become all too routine, one must remain wary.
“You don’t know what the intensity of the storm is going to be. You don’t want to take it lightly, of course,” MacDonald said.
Flooding also was a risk. As much as 8 inches of rain could fall in some parts of the Gulf states through late Thursday as the tropical weather moves inland toward Arkansas.
Governors in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana all declared states of emergency, allowing them to mobilize state resources and National Guard troops to help during and after the storm. Mayors of barrier islands in the storm’s path warned that their communities might get cut off from the mainland.
Gordon was not the only storm being watched by forecasters. Hurricane Florence was some 2,400 miles away from the U.S., and another potential storm was likely to form not far off the coast of Africa and head east.