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Tropical Storm Claudette brings rain, floods to Gulf Coast
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Tropical Storm Claudette brings rain, floods to Gulf Coast

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Tropical Storm Claudette dumped heavy rain across coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama as it chugged inland Saturday, threatening flash floods and possibly tornadoes along its soggy course across the Southeast.

The National Hurricane Center declared Claudette organized enough to qualify as a named storm at 4 a.m. Saturday, well after the storm's center of circulation had come ashore southwest of New Orleans. It was north of the city three hours later, with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (72 kph) as the storm plodded to the northeast at 12 mph (19 kph). The heaviest rains were far from the center, near the Mississippi-Alabama state line.

Tornado warnings were issued from the Mississippi coast to the western Florida panhandle. In Mobile County, Alabama, someone reported storm damage to a fishing pier on Dauphin Island, Alabama, said Glen Brannan of the county Emergency Management Agency. He said there were no reports of injuries.

"We've got little squalls running through. It'll rain really really hard for a few minutes and slack up for a few minutes," Brannan said early Saturday. "Just a lot of water on the roads."

Forecasters said Claudette could dump 5 to 10 inches (12 to 25 centimeters) of rain in the region, with isolated accumulations of 15 inches (38 centimeters) possible.

Residents of Slidell, Louisiana, reported flooded streets and water in some neighborhoods as the storm pushed onshore overnight. Slidell police said the flooding had largely receded by daybreak, after swamping as many as 50 cars and trucks with water.

"A few low lying areas are still inundated with water and cannot be reached" with regular vehicles, Slidell police said in a Facebook post. "...We had to rescue multiple people from their flooded cars, along with a woman, who was on her way to the hospital, possibly going into labor."

Most people riding out the storm still had electricity when they woke Saturday morning. The website poweroutage.us reported roughly 13,000 outages total across Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Forecasters predicted Claudette would become a tropical depression by early Sunday as its remnants crossed Alabama toward Georgia and the Carolinas. The storm was forecast to cross into the Atlantic Ocean off North Carolina on Monday, and regain tropical storm strength over open water Tuesday.

The storm struck on a weekend when many on the Gulf Coast planned to celebrate Juneteenth and Father's Day.

Business owners across the Gulf Coast, from restaurateurs to swamp boat operators, had anticipated an influx of tourist cash after a year of lost revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"My biggest concern is that it drives away a busy weekend, and may just end up being a lot of rain," Austin Sumrall, the owner and chef at the White Pillars Restaurant and Lounge in Biloxi, Mississippi, said Friday.

He had 170 reservations on his books for Sunday, but was concerned some patrons would cancel.

"We saw, especially last year, the rug can get jerked out from under you pretty quickly," he said.

In Louisiana, the threat came a month after spring storms and flooding that were blamed for five deaths, and as parts of the state continued a slow recovery from a brutal 2020 hurricane season. That included Tropical Storm Cristobal that opened the season last June, hurricanes Laura and Delta that devastated southwest Louisiana, and Hurricane Zeta that downed trees and knocked out power for days in New Orleans in October.

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Bynum reported from Savannah, Georgia.

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