Page One

Summer weather takes its toll

By Alan Sayre The Associated Press
Wednesday September 25, 2002

NEW ORLEANS — Cajun fishing towns cleared out, Navy ships steamed out for the open sea and inland hotels began filling up as Tropical Storm Isidore strengthened Tuesday and headed toward the Gulf Coast. 

The storm, which left two people dead and 300,000 homeless in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, moved back over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and was expected to hit Louisiana or Mississippi with hurricane force as early as Wednesday night. 

Emergency officials in Florida were watching another tropical storm, Lili, which has killed three people in the Caribbean and could strike the southern part of the state over the weekend. 

At 5 p.m. EDT, Isidore was about 550 miles south of New Orleans and heading north at around 7 mph. Its sustained winds, which had fallen to well below hurricane strength of 74 mph as the storm moved over land, rose to 60 mph and were expected to strengthen. 

Ahead of the storm, bands of rain lashed parts of the Gulf Coast. 

The forecast track put the eye of the storm over rural Terrebonne Parish, southeast of New Orleans, early Thursday. Storm advisories stretched from Jefferson and Orange counties in Texas to Destin, Fla. 

Grand Isle, an island resort south of New Orleans that has just one two-lane escape route, was placed under a mandatory evacuation order at midday Tuesday. Many of the town’s 1,500 residents were already on their way out. 

“We’re leaving. I’m getting my boat ready now,” said Leland McMaster, general manager at Poche’s Cabins and Apartments. 

In Terrebonne Parish, vulnerable coastal towns including Chauvin, Grand Caillou and Theriot were ordered evacuated. Officials expected an exodus of about 2,000 people. 

While early projections indicated Isidore could come ashore as a Category 4 storm with 155 mph winds, Tuesday’s forecasts were for a less powerful Category 1 hurricane — with wind in excess of 80 mph. 

Still, ships pulled out of the Naval Station at Pascagoula, Miss., for safer waters, and hotels north of coastal areas were swamped with reservations. 

“We’ve been having to turn people away,” said Denise Sullivan at the front desk of the Ramada Inn in Jackson, Miss. 

Officials along the Texas coast were battling Isidore-caused swells of 12 feet, and expected them to grow as the storm approaches. On South Padre Island, overnight tides swamped an emergency sand wall and water rushed onto streets. 

New Orleans, the nation’s biggest city with a low point below sea level, prepared for heavy rain by closing flood walls, putting all pumping stations in full operation, sandbagging roads near the water and even asking hospitals to delay elective surgeries. 

Mayor Ray Nagin said he was not ready to order or recommend evacuations.