Isaac could cause flooding far inland in Miss.

Published 5:22 pm Tuesday, August 28, 2012

GULFPORT(AP) — Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and other officials are warning residents not to get complacent about the slow approach of Hurricane Isaac.

They say rain dumped by Isaac could cause significant flooding even hundreds of miles inland in coming days, especially on the state’s western side.

“This is a slow-moving system and we expect heavy rain to occur throughout Mississippi,” said Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate, speaking Tuesday with Bryant at a Mississippi Air National Guard base in Gulfport. “This is not just a storm for coastal Mississippi.”

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Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Robert Latham said as many as 175,000 residents of Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties faced evacuation orders. All three coastal counties set overnight curfews.

The state could see tropical storm-force winds for a long duration, and the broad storm is expected to pump a significant storm tide toward the shore. Water was creeping up on beachside U.S. 90 in Biloxi Tuesday, and storm surge was pushing out of bayous and bays in other neighborhoods, flooding streets.

All along U.S. 90, families stood at the edge of the waves to gawk. The Mississippi Sound, protected by barrier islands, is often as still as a lake. But Isaac began stirring breakers before dawn, as it pumped a storm tide toward the coast. Police struggled to clear piers where water was lapping at the boards, and resorted to bullhorns to tell sightseers to leave the beach

In Hancock County, motorists crept through waves washing across Beach Boulevard in the small town of Waveland. Brandon Ellis, 23, rode a yellow ATV to the beach in Waveland to watch the water roll in.

“It’s amazing,” he said, pointing to the Gulf of Mexico. “There’s usually a walk way right there (behind a sea wall) but it’s under water.”

Ellis, who was further north in Picayune when Hurricane Katrina hit seven years ago Wednesday, said he had no plans to evacuate.

“I raise pigs and a few cows. I’m going to stay and make sure they’re OK,” he said.

Harrison County’s curfew of 7 p.m. Tuesday to 7 a.m. Wednesday is designed to keep gawkers away from potentially dangerous areas. Gulfport Mayor George Schloegel warned that police would be stern in efforts to prevent looting.

“Don’t be out of your homes,” he said.

Jackson County set curfews of 10 p.m. Tuesday to 7 a.m. Wednesday and 10 p.m. Wednesday to 7 a.m. Thursday. Hancock County’s is 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., beginning Wednesday and extending until further notice.

“This storm is big and it’s tightening up and it sat out there for 12 hours south of us and it’s pushing that wave action in and there’s nowhere for that water to go until it dissipates,” said Harrison County Emergency Operations Director Rupert Lacy.

Latham said more than 1,000 people had checked in at 24 shelters statewide by 1 p.m. Tuesday. He said that there had been an “uptick” in people entering shelters, although the shelters open by then can hold more than 7,000.

As Isaac pushed closer to shore, bands of rain pelted the Mississippi coast. Harbors were mostly empty, other than disabled boats that couldn’t be moved. In Pass Christian, a sail boat had washed aground near the beach and bobbled in the surf. Many houses were boarded up.

The Mississippi Gaming Commission on Tuesday ordered Harrison County’s 10 casinos shut at 10 a.m., following the Monday closure of Hancock County’s two gambling halls. Many businesses were closed, and postal workers wrapped mailboxes in plastic.

In Pass Christian, Steve Ladner was waiting for customers at Martin’s Hardware. The 80-year-old store only had one wall standing after Katrina, but was rebuilt as part of a small shopping center in the western Harrison County town, where well-off New Orleanians have long maintained grand beach homes.

Ladner said business was strong from 8 a.m. to about noon, as he sold rope, lights, batteries and other hurricane supplies. “All hurricane sales final” said the sign on the counter.

Customers said they were staying, Ladner said, even though all of Pass Christian was included in a mandatory evacuation order that began at noon.

Long Beach residents Charlotte Timmons and Brenda Batey took a sunrise beach walk before heading home when rain began. The women said they have prepared their homes and won’t take risks, but they think Mississippi will be spared the devastation of some past storms.

Both women lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed a large chunk of the northern Gulf Coast. Since Katrina, people have a more cautious attitude toward tropical weather, perhaps so cautious that there’s a danger of complacency setting in after near misses, Timmons said.

Timmons and Batey said they have friends who just can’t understand why they moved back to the coast after Katrina. But they can’t imagine not taking morning walks on the beach.

“People say, ‘Why do you still live there?’ You can’t explain it,” said Batey, a 60-year-old retired language teacher.