By Holbrook Mohr and Jeff Amy/The Associated Press
MOSS POINT — Residents of the storm-saturated Mississippi Gulf Coast ventured out Thursday to examine damage from Isaac as local governments lifted curfews. Some neighborhoods flooded as the storm system continued dumping heavy rains on its slow trek northward.
Isaac blew ashore as a hurricane Tuesday night, soaking south Louisiana and Mississippi. It was downgraded to a tropical storm Wednesday and to a tropical depression Thursday. High winds damaged buildings Thursday in Ocean Springs and Pascagoula.
Some coastal businesses and roads reopened, but many people who had evacuated still couldn’t make it home because of standing water in low-lying areas and along rivers. Near the western end of Mississippi’s coastline, beachside roads were covered in sand, and several dead nutria — large semiaquatic rodents — littered Beach Boulevard in Hancock County.
A tow truck driver, Gregory Alan Parker, 62, of Picayune, was killed early Thursday when Isaac’s high winds and heavy rains knocked a tree onto his vehicle in his hometown, one county up from the coast and just across the state line from Louisiana.
Near the Alabama line, Jackson County Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Monica Cooper said authorities evacuated people Thursday morning as water rose in the Kreole community in eastern Moss Point. She said some were also being rescued in areas of Pascagoula south of U.S. 90 and there were reports of rising waters in Escatawpa. Cooper said residents told authorities that some houses flooded, although it was not immediately clear how many.
Ray Hayes’ front yard in the Kreole area had about a foot of water, and he said his family considered leaving.
“It got a little worse in Hurricane Georges,” Hayes said, referring to a 1998 storm. “This is not quite as bad.”
Many people left the Kreole area when rumors circulated that flood gates would be opened at the Big Creek Lake on the western side of Mobile, Ala.
Mobile Water and Sewer System, which operates the dam on the drinking water reservoir, partially opened the flood gates, said Cooper. Local authorities were “not expecting any great impact from that opening,” she said.
The Big Creek Lake drains in to the Escatawpa River, which runs along the northern edge of Kreole. Officials said both the Escatawpa and Pascagoula rivers remained swollen.
Pascagoula Police Department spokesman Doug Adams said a large portion of the city flooded and water blocked U.S. 90 at Market Street, in the heart of downtown. “Roads that don’t usually have water on them are covered and water is deeper in areas that are prone to flooding,” he said.
Jackson County real estate broker Mark Cumbest said rising water threatened homes in places that normally stay dry in the northern part of the county, including his parents’ house in the Cumbest Bluff community north of Escatawpa, on the east side of the Pascagoula River.
“I’ve never seen this before,” Cumbest said.
Hancock County Chief Deputy Don Bass said Isaac’s storm surge left two- to three-feet of sand on the road in spots on Beach Boulevard, which runs along the shore in Bay St. Louis and Waveland. He said a primary concern is flooding along rivers and creeks, which continue to rise from rain further north.
Bands of intermittent rain still pelted the soggy coast and there was gusting wind, but conditions had improved since the height of the storm Wednesday
Forecasters also say as many as 11 inches of rain could fall by Monday in parts of Mississippi.
Many counties in central and south Mississippi were under a tornado watch until 4 p.m. The National Weather Service issued flash-flood watches.
Many roads remained impassable in some rural and low-lying areas. The Mississippi Department of Transportation reported some road closings because of downed trees and power lines. Federal authorities closed the Natchez Trace Parkway between Natchez and Kosciusko because of fallen trees.
President Barack Obama declared federal emergencies in Louisiana and Mississippi. The declarations free up federal aid for affected areas.
A steady flow of cars headed south Thursday on Highway 603, which had been closed during the storm. It is the main thoroughfare from Interstate 10 to Waveland and Bay St. Louis
In north Waveland, Jeff Delle was airing his truck tire on 603 as his brother, Stanley, waded through the parking lot of a flooded gas station to get to his van.
Jeff Delle said the water began rising in his neighborhood in the Shoreline Park community on Wednesday and nearly caught fire to his house, which is on stilts, when the water reached the electrical meter box. He took his family to a house they are building further north in Kiln.
“I’m just waiting for the water to go down so I can go in and see what I need to clean up,” he said.
Stanley Delle, who lives near his brother, said he waited for the water to go down some then waded through chest deep water Thursday morning to get to the highway. He said Isaac has been a long ordeal and “I’m glad it’s trying to go away.”
Pearl River County Emergency Management Director Danny Manley said Interstate 59 was covered by 6 inched of water early Thursday at its crossing over the Wolf River. Creeks in the county aren’t forecast to crest until Friday morning, meaning flooding was likely to worsen. County officials rescued four people from the waters overnight, Manley said. He said high winds damaged some structures in the county, including ripping a roof off a mobile home in the Pine Grove community.
Jeff Amy and Holbrook Mohr were reporting from several cities on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Associated Press writers Jack Elliott Jr. and Emily Wagster Pettus contributed to this report from Jackson, Miss.