Ida blows ashore as Gulf Coast rides out storm

GULF SHORES, Ala. — Tropical Storm Ida blew ashore with rain and gusty but weakening winds before dawn Tuesday as weather-hardened Gulf Coast residents rode out the rare late-season storm.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Ida’s center first touched land on Dauphin Island and was headed across Mobile Bay for the Alabama mainland, with top sustained winds slowing to about 45 mph (75 kph). Ida was moving northeast about 9 mph (15 kph) and expected to turn eastward to follow the Florida Panhandle.

Forecasters said the storm had already spread most of its heavy rain onshore along the Gulf Coast ahead of Ida’s center. Tropical storm warnings were in effect across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, where governors declared states of emergency.

In Orange Beach, east of Mobile Bay near the Florida state line, hotel desk clerk Frank Worley said Ida was more like a thunderstorm than a hurricane as it slopped ashore overnight.

“It was a lot of waves and wind, but it wasn’t very harsh,” he said. “There’s a few people driving up and down the roads, but no one on the beach.”

There were reports of scattered power outages, but water that filled parking lots and roadsides late Monday was gone by daybreak Tuesday. The rain had stopped, but the winds are still brisk, whipping palm fronds and whistling through doors. On the beach, dry sand blew like snow in the glow of lights.

The storm surge wasn’t enough to breach sand berms along the Alabama coast guarding beachfront hotels and condominium buildings.

Paula Tillman, a spokeswoman for the emergency operations agency in Baldwin County on the east side of Mobile Bay, said there were no reports of damage on the Alabama coast.

“So far, so good,” she said.

In Mississippi’s easternmost coastal county, authorities said the storm was pretty much over and water was already receding from about two dozen local roads that had flooded. “We fared well,” said Jackson County Emergency Operations Director Donald Langham, who added there were no reports of homes damaged.

The wind howled all night in Pensacola Beach, Fla., but unlike in some past storms the main beachfront road was not flooded and power remained on.

Few people had evacuated or sought refuge along Alabama’s coast ahead of the former hurricane that once had potent winds over 100 mph. Officials said fewer than 70 people were in shelters that opened in Mobile and Baldwin counties, with a population of 565,000.

Ida started moving across the Gulf as the third hurricane of this year’s quiet Atlantic tropical season, which ends Dec. 1.

Rain and some flooding seemed to be the biggest threats. Up to 8 inches could fall in some areas, with most of the coast getting between 3 and 6 inches.

Earlier in the week, a low-pressure system that the hurricane may have played a role in attracting had triggered flooding and landslides in El Salvador that killed at least 130 people. Near New Orleans, a 70-year-old man was feared drowned when trying to help two fishermen whose boat had broken down in the Mississippi River on Monday, said Maj. John Marie, a Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s spokesman.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist on Monday warned people to remain vigilant, saying Tropical Storm Fay was blamed for more than a dozen deaths in his state, Haiti and the Dominican Republic last year. No mandatory evacuations were ordered, but authorities in coastal areas encouraged people near the water or in mobile homes to seek shelter. Many schools closed, and several cruise ships were delayed as the U.S. Coast Guard closed Gulf Coast ports.

Not everyone was complacent. In Navarre Beach, Fla., a few miles east of Pensacola, Roger Dick, 64, boarded up his windows Monday and readied his generator at his home a block from the beach, as he and his wife prepared for their first storm as Florida residents.

“Even though we’re rookies, we know there’s cause for concern and we’ve taken precautions, obviously,” he said.

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Associated Press writers Melissa Nelson and Bill Kaczor in Pensacola, Suzette Laboy in Miami, Becky Bohrer in New Orleans, Dorie Turner in Atlanta, Bob Johnson in Montgomery, Ala., Greg Bluestein in Dauphin Island, Ala., and Mike Kunzelman in Biloxi, Miss. contributed to this report.

Jay Reeves/The Associated Press