By Holbrook Mohr and Jeff Amy/The Associated Press
GULFPORT — Isaac pelted parts of south Mississippi with heavy rains Wednesday, flooding some homes in low-lying areas and turning parts of beachside U.S. Highway 90 into a river near Biloxi casinos.
On the 7th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, however, some Gulf Coast residents said they were underwhelmed by Isaac, which was considerably less intense. Isaac became a hurricane before driving aground Tuesday evening in Louisiana and was downgraded to a tropical storm by Wednesday, meaning its top sustained wind speeds had dropped below the hurricane threshold of 74 mph.
“I just don’t think it’s bad enough to even do much. I’ve been riding around all morning and I’ve only seen two trees down,” said Miles Corbitt, 22, of Bay St. Louis.
He glanced at his cellphone and laughed. “Well, three now,” he said after seeing a Facebook picture of a tree that fell on a friend’s car.
Gov. Phil Bryant, at a briefing later Wednesday, said seeing U.S. 90 submerged in places brought to mind Hurricane Katrina on the 7th anniversary of the day it killed more than 200 people in Mississippi.
“It was a vivid reminder of that terrible storm,” Bryant said.
Of Isaac, Bryant said he was heartened that it had been downgraded to a tropical storm.
“The surge continues,” Bryant said. “So, unfortunately, does the rain and the wind. The good news it may be weakening.”
Mike Efferson, a meteorologist in the Slidell, La., office of the National Weather Service, said tropical storm force winds could continue past midnight into early Thursday morning. Weather forecasters are also predicting as many as 11 inches of rain by Monday for parts of Mississippi.
“The weather is still bad,” said Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Robert Latham. “There’s still a lot of potential.”
Though few trees have fallen so far, continuing winds could topple them where the ground has become saturated. Several buildings in Gulfport and Biloxi lost parts of their facades after hours of stress in the long storm.
“We’d like the storm to hurry up and move out of our way and take the rain and the wind with it,” said U.S. Rep Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., who represents the coastal areas and south Mississippi.
Bryant said he intended to ask the federal government for money to pick up debris and take emergency measures to protect property. He said hoped to sign the request before the end of Wednesday. Bryant said he looked to a “sustained and successful” recovery effort.
Hancock County supervisor David Yarborough said he can understand why some residents discounted Isaac, because they’ve seen hurricanes that nearly wiped away some coastal communities
“When you live through Katrina and see things like that, you tend to take things like this more lightly,” Yarborough said. “But I don’t because I’ve got to come up with (county) money to pay for this.”
Yarborough said Isaac washed away a county pier in Bay St. Louis. He also said some residents in low-lying areas were losing everything they own because their homes were flooding. Mandatory evacuations were ordered Monday in low-lying areas of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Katrina roared ashore Aug. 29, 2005, killing more than 200 people in Mississippi. It swept away hundreds of homes and businesses, destroyed bridges, uprooted countless trees and tossed massive casino barges onto land.
Isaac was leaving a more modest trail of destruction, with damaged roofs, some snapped trees and slow-rising water that crept into some casino parking garages.
Schools and many businesses closed, and Mississippi’s three coastal counties had extended curfews. Hancock County, which borders Louisiana, started a curfew Tuesday night and extended it through 6 a.m. Thursday.
In eastern Biloxi, water stood two or three feet deep Wednesday on parts of U.S. 90, which looked like a river where it runs past casinos. Water pushed into the bottom floor of Grand Casino’s closed-off parking garage and lapped around the Palace Casino. The Mississippi Gaming Commission ordered coast casinos to close Tuesday before Isaac pushed ashore in Louisiana.
In Pass Christian, a coastal community that had been wiped out by hurricanes Camille and Katrina, Mayor Chipper McDermott was optimistic Isaac would not deal a heavy blow. As he looked out toward the Gulf of Mexico, pieces of a structure that had stood atop the city’s fishing pier washed across the parking lot.
McDermott said low-lying areas that typically flood were under water. McDermott said many homes there are vacation getaways for New Orleans residents, so he thought they were empty as Isaac neared.
Before Isaac had even reached land, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and other officials were warning residents not to get complacent. Authorities had warned of the threat of significant flooding even hundreds of miles inland this week.
Away from the coast in Pike County, Miss., about 110 miles north of New Orleans, emergency director Richard Coghlan said Isaac was expected bring 8 to 10 inches of rain.
Holbrook Mohr reported from Bay St. Louis, Miss. Jeff Amy reported from Pass Christian, Gulfport and Biloxi, Miss. Associated Press writers Jack Elliott Jr. and Emily Wagster Pettus contributed from Jackson, Miss.