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Life-threatening flash flooding rises in Claudette’s path

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                A car stops in front of neighborhood flooding after Tropical Storm Claudette passed through, in Slidell, La.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    A car stops in front of neighborhood flooding after Tropical Storm Claudette passed through, in Slidell, La.

NEW ORLEANS >> Forecasters warned of life-threatening flash flooding in parts of the Deep South, particularly across central Alabama, as Tropical Depression Claudette traveled over coastal states early today.

Heavy rain led to high water late Saturday into early today in the Birmingham and Tuscaloosa metropolitan areas.

More than 20 people were rescued by boat due to flooding in Northport, Alabama, WVUA-TV reported. The Tuscaloosa County Emergency Management Agency tweeted that local Red Cross volunteers were on hand to help those who were affected.

And, Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service Capt. Bryan Harrell told news outlets that a search was underway for a man who was possibly swept away by flooding.

Village Creek in nearby Ensley rose above flood stage to 13 feet (4 meters), the National Weather Service in Birmingham tweeted.

The rapidly changing conditions came as Claudette was beginning to batter parts of Georgia and the Carolinas early today.

The system was located about 85 miles (135 kilometers) west-southwest of Atlanta, with sustained winds of 30 mph (45 kph). It was moving east-northeast at 13 mph (20 kph), the National Hurricane Center said in advisory this morning.

A tropical storm warning was in effect in North Carolina from the Little River Inlet to the town of Duck on the Outer Banks. A tropical storm watch was issued South Santee River, South Carolina, to the Little River Inlet, forecasters said.

Claudette was expected to cross into the Atlantic Ocean on Monday, and regain tropical storm strength over eastern North Carolina.

Claudette was declared organized enough to qualify as a named tropical storm early Saturday morning, well after the storm’s center of circulation had come ashore southwest of New Orleans.

Shortly after landfall, a suspected tornado spurred by the storm demolished or badly damaged at least 50 homes in a small town in Alabama, just north of the Florida border.

Sheriff Heath Jackson in Escambia County said a suspected tornado “pretty much leveled” a mobile home park, toppled trees onto houses and ripped the roof off of a high school gym. Most of the damage was done in or near the towns of Brewton and East Brewton, about 48 miles (77 kilometers) north of Pensacola, Florida.

“It kind of affected everybody,” Jackson said. “But with those mobile homes being built so close together it can take a toll on them a lot more than it can on houses that are spread apart.”

There were no immediate reports of serious injuries or deaths.

Damage from the storm was also felt in north Florida, where winds — in some cases reaching 85 mph (137 kph) — caused an 18-wheeler to flip on its side.

The storm also dumped flooding rains north of Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana and along the Mississippi coast, inundating streets and, in some areas, pushing water into homes. Later, the storm was drenching the Florida Panhandle and, well inland, a broad expanse of Alabama.

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

Separately, Tropical Storm Dolores made landfall on Mexico’s west coast with near-hurricane force. As of this morning, it had dissipated over Mexico. Its remnants had maximum sustained winds of 25 mph (35 kph), and it was centered about 170 miles (275 kilometers) east of Mazatlan, Mexico.

Heavy rainfall totals up to 15 inches (38 centimeters) were expected across the southwest and western coastal areas of Mexico throughout the weekend. Forecasters were warning of the potential for flash flooding and mudslides.

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