Ida downgraded to tropical storm

Tuesday, November 10, 2009 - 12:23pm

DAUPHIN ISLAND, ALABAMA — Ida sloshed ashore with rain and gusty winds before losing its tropical storm strength Tuesday, leaving weather-hardened Gulf Coast residents largely unscathed.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Ida's center first touched land as a tropical storm on Dauphin Island before heading across Mobile Bay for the Alabama mainland. Top sustained winds dropped to near 35 mph (55 mph) and it became a tropical depression. Ida was moving northeast about 9 mph (15 kph) and expected to turn eastward to follow the Florida Panhandle.

Tropical storm warnings were discontinued across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Forecasters said the storm had already spread most of its heavy rain onshore along the Gulf Coast ahead of Ida's center.

The storm had shut down nearly a third of oil and natural gas production in Gulf as oil companies evacuated workers ahead of Ida. Still, demand for energy is so low due to the economic downturn, energy prices barely budged on Tuesday. Oil companies are expected to fly workers back out to platforms relatively quickly to restart operations.

The storm left some debris and standing water in the streets on Dauphin Island, but many residents said they were unscathed aside from power outages.

"The only thing it did to us is knock out the power. Our houses and people are fine. I'm fine," resident Jimmy Wentworth said.

On the lower lying west end of the island, where many residents had evacuated, there was ankle deep water on parts of the road. A police officer standing guard in front of a stretch of the road said the extent of damage was uncertain.

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.

The sun was out in Mississippi's easternmost coastal county, where authorities said the storm was pretty much over and water was already receding from about two dozen local roads that had flooded.

Few people had evacuated or sought refuge along Alabama's coast ahead of the former hurricane that once had potent winds over 100 mph (160 kph). 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.

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.

Pensacola Beach appeared largely undamaged Tuesday morning from Ida with the main road leading across the beach open and clear of water and sand.