Ida weakens to a depression, soaks the Southeast

AP News
Posted: Nov 10, 2009 4:02 PM

Tropical Storm Ida sloshed ashore with rain and gusty winds Tuesday before weakening to a depression, causing little damage along the Gulf Coast but bringing more rain to the already-soaked Southeast.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Ida's center first touched land on Dauphin Island, Ala., before heading across Mobile Bay toward the Alabama mainland and on to Florida.

Top winds dropped to near 35 mph as Ida weakened. Forecasters said it would likely be absorbed by a front Wednesday.

The scene it left behind delighted tourists and residents strolling on Pensacola Beach in the Florida Panhandle on Tuesday afternoon.

"It is beautiful, spectacular," said F.M. Hall of Tennessee as he waded into the frothy water and watched the white-capped waves rolling onto white sand.

Eric Rohde strolled along the beach with 9-year-old twin sons Dylan and Zackery, who were collecting shells, driftwood and other treasures washed up by the rough surf.

"I grew up in Ohio and this place is paradise," said Rohde, who now lives in Pensacola. "I'll take a storm every couple of years for this."

Tropical storm warnings were discontinued Tuesday morning across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Forecasters said the storm had spread most of its heavy rain along the Gulf Coast ahead of Ida's center. Rain continued Tuesday afternoon in Tennessee, the Carolinas and Georgia, where flooding was a concern.

"The only thing it did to us is knock out the power," resident Jimmy Wentworth said as he sipped coffee outside the Ship&Shore convenience store on Dauphin Island. "Our houses and people are fine. I'm fine."

In Louisiana, authorities continued their search for 70-year-old fisherman Leo Ancalade, who was presumed dead after he was knocked off his boat by a wave as Ida approached Monday. The Coast Guard said he was towing friends whose small boat lost power in the Mississippi River.

No other U.S. deaths were reported, but earlier in the week, a low-pressure system that the hurricane may have helped attract triggered flooding and landslides in El Salvador that killed at least 130 people.

The storm did wash out a section of sea wall designed to protect the Jetty East condominium complex in Destin, Fla., from storm surge. Inspectors declared the building safe for residents, but repairs will be needed on top of the $300,000 spent during hurricane season last year.

"We are looking at another $60,000 now," said Jerry Stalnaker, the general manager at the building. "Our owners aren't too happy."

The storm shut down nearly a third of oil and natural gas production in the Gulf as companies moved workers ahead of Ida, but demand was so low due to the economic downturn that energy prices barely budged. Oil companies said they would quickly fly workers back out to platforms to restart operations.

Scattered power outages were reported, but water that filled parking lots and roadsides in coastal Alabama late Monday was gone by daybreak Tuesday.

Atlanta resident Mike White drove down Monday to see the storm and was watching breakers crash at Gulf Shores, Ala., early Tuesday. The sky was clear overhead but there were clouds all around.

"This is spectacular," White said. "It's almost like we are in the eyewall."

The sun was out in Mississippi's easternmost coastal county and water was receding from about two dozen local roads that had flooded.

Patrick Keene, 71, and his wife, Kathie, live in a doublewide trailer in the shadow of the beach front home in Pascagoula, Miss., that they are rebuilding four years after Hurricane Katrina.

While his wife retreated to their son's home across the state Monday night, Keene and his dog rode out the storm in the trailer.

"We get summer squalls frequently that are as bad as this one," he said.

Ida started moving across the Gulf as the third hurricane of this year's quiet Atlantic tropical season, which ends Dec. 1, but weakened before it got to the U.S. Ronnie Powell, headed to his construction job on Pensacola Beach, wasn't impressed.

"We've had thunderstorms worse than that," he said.


Associated Press Writers Bill Kaczor in Pensacola, Greg Bluestein in Dauphin Island, Ala., Jay Reeves in Gulf Shores, Ala., and Mike Kunzelman in Pascagoula, Miss., contributed to this report.