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Video: Plenty of rain, tropical storm Lee moves to Northeast

  1. Transcript of: Plenty of rain, tropical storm Lee moves to Northeast

    SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, co-host: But we're going to begin with the torrential rain and tornadoes being produced by remnants of Tropical Storm Lee in the South . We've got three reports now starting with The Weather Channel 's Mike Seidel ; he's in Jackson , Mississippi , this morning. Mike , good morning to you.

    MIKE SEIDEL reporting: And good morning, Savannah . We've had more than eight inches of rain overnight here in central Mississippi , north of Jackson , and that has put more than two dozen Mississippi counties under flash flood warnings. Water is now entering homes, there are evacuations under way. This is what's left of Tropical Storm Lee , finally makes its move out of the area. On Sunday, slow-moving Tropical Storm Lee made landfall on the southwest coast of Louisiana . A foot of rain put the New Orleans levee and canal system on alert while engineers kept a watchful eye on pumping stations.

    Mr. CHRIS ACCARDO (New Orleans District Corps of Engineers): From a movement of rainwater, it's been right up there with the hurricane. And that's been the challenge and that's why you see these pumps working.

    SEIDEL: Fearing the worst, Gulf Coast residents had to make safety preparations they've gone through so many times before.

    Unidentified Woman #1: We got about four to six inches in the house last time so we start this in case we need to put it at the back doors and stuff, you know.

    SEIDEL: And in some places, like LaFitte , Louisiana , those fears were realized. Parts of that town are under water.

    Unidentified Man #1: When you pump over the levees it comes over here.

    SEIDEL: And flooding isn't the only problem. You got a sense of the wind coming off the Mississippi right now and pelting us. These gusts right now in the mid to upper 40s. Woo! This storm has spawned more than a dozen tornadoes causing damage in towns like Perdido Key , Florida .

    Unidentified Man #2: Everybody that I went to go and help last night is alive. And, you know, this could all be rebuilt.

    SEIDEL: Some were able to put a positive spin on it all, like these cruising honeymooners who face rough seas ahead.

    Unidentified Woman #2: We're going to have fun anyways. We're going to enjoy our honeymoon.

    Unidentified Man #3: We're going to -- they say good luck for wedding day, so we got plenty of it.

    SEIDEL: But New Orleans officials are still cautious.

    Mayor MITCH LANDRIEU (Democrat, New Orleans): We want to ask you to continue to be vigilant. Just because it's been slow it does not mean it's over.

    SEIDEL: And it's certainly not over for the Northeast , still reeling from damage of the Hurricane Irene , as the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee are expected to dump more rain on that region in the coming days. Flash flood watches are now up from here all the way up the Eastern Seaboard , including Atlanta , Charlotte , Washington , into New England , those areas hard hit by Irene . And today, Savannah , an increasing tornado threat ahead of Lee across parts of the Southeast and Gulf Coast . Back to you.

    GUTHRIE: All right, Mike Seidel in Mississippi for us this morning. Mike , thank you.

    PETER ALEXANDER, co-host: Al has the morning off today, so we're going to get to The Weather Channel 's Maria LaRosa . She's upstairs with more on what we can expect from the Remnants of Lee today. And, Maria , this thing could be here for a while.

    MARIA LaROSA reporting: Absolutely. And it may be extra tropical means Lee has lost what makes it a tropical system, but it has not lost its power when it comes to the rain, even the gusty winds. Looking at the radar picture right now, Jackson still seeing the heavy rain . Much of the Northeast -- I should say the Southeast . It'll be moving up into to Northeast . Take a look at the next 24-hour to 48-hour rainfall total, those areas in the purple and the red. We're talking three, five, maybe as much as seven inches clear from the Southeast through the mid- Atlantic and on up into the Northeast . Now we also have to focus on the tropics, including Hurricane Katia . Still a Category 2 storm. Max winds at 100 miles per hour . Still watching that track very closely. We do expect it to strengthen to a Category 3 storm sometime Wednesday into Thursday. Notice in that time frame it is going to make that right hook between Cape Hatteras and Bermuda , steering clear of the East Coast . However, at the very least we're going to see some very big swells and rough surf from the mid- Atlantic coast up into the Northeast . So it still bears watching. Peter , back to you.

    ALEXANDER: Yeah, way too close for comfort .

    LaROSA: Absolutely.

    ALEXANDER: Maria , thank you very much . We're going to get the rest of the forecast in a moment.

    PETER ALEXANDER, co-host: First, though, as we mentioned, the high winds from Lee are being blamed for fanning the flames of wildfires in Texas , at least one that has already turned deadly. And NBC 's Jay Gray is in the city of Bastrop . Jay , good morning to you.

    JAY GRAY reporting: Good morning, Peter , yeah. And the situation in Texas is dire this morning. More than two dozen wildfires burning across the state, the worst of it, as you said, here in Bastrop where there were reports of as many as 300 homes that have been destroyed, 14,000 acres charred. And the fire is still raging out of control at this hour. The flames are being pushed by the residual effects of Tropical Storm Lee , gusts of over 40 miles an hour making it impossible for fire crews to gain the upper hand here or across the state. In East Texas , a different fire. At least two people are dead, a young mother and her 18-month-old child. They were unable to escape a wall of fire that swallowed their home. The Texas Forestry Service says that resources in this state have already been pushed past their limits. They made a public appeal for any and all available firefighters to report for duty immediately. And forecasters say there is more bad news. They won't see any relief from the drought conditions here until sometime in November, Peter .

    ALEXANDER: Too much water in some place, not enough in others. Jay Gray , thank you.

msnbc.com news services
updated 9/4/2011 10:51:54 PM ET 2011-09-05T02:51:54

Tropical Storm Lee dumped more than a foot of rain in New Orleans and spun off tornadoes elsewhere Sunday as its center came ashore in a slow crawl north that raised fears of inland flash flooding in the Deep South and beyond.

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Areas of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi near the coast reported scattered wind damage and flooding, but evacuations appeared to be in the hundreds rather than the thousands and New Orleans' levees were doing their job just over six years after Hurricane Katrina swamped the city.

By late Sunday evening, Lee was downgraded to a tropical depression but still poses a flash flood threat as the rain moves from the flatter Gulf region into the rugged Appalachians, said
National Hurricane Center specialist Robbie Berg.

Closer to the Gulf, the water is "just going to sit there a couple of days," he said. "Up in the Appalachians you get more threat of flash floods — so that's very similar to some of the stuff we saw in Vermont."

Vermont is still cleaning up and digging out dozens of communities that were damaged and isolated last week when heavy rain from Tropical Storm Irene quickly flooded mountain rivers.

No deaths had been directly attributed to Tropical Storm Lee, though a body boarder in Galveston, Texas, drowned after being pulled out to sea in heavy surf churned up by Lee. A man in Mississippi suffered non-life-threatening injuries when authorities said he was struck by lightning that traveled through a phone line.

The vast, soggy system spent hours during the weekend hovering in the northernmost Gulf of Mexico before its center finally crossed into Louisiana west of New Orleans, pelting a wide swath of coastline.

Some of the damage on the Gulf Coast, where tropical storms are an almost yearly event, appeared to come from spinoff tornadoes that touched down in southern Mississippi and Alabama.

Dena Hickman said her home in Saucier, Miss., was damaged overnight by what she believes was a tornado. It happened too fast for her to get her 12-year-old daughter, who uses a wheelchair, out of her bed and into a safer place.

"I laid on top of her to try to protect her. It all happened so quickly I couldn't do anything else," she said.

Her family weathered the storm, but it damaged shingles on their roof, flipped a 34-foot camper on its side, ripped off the roof of a cinderblock building that houses a water pump and pulled the doors off of a metal shop building. The contents of a neighbor's pulverized trailer were scattered across the Hickmans' yard.

In New Orleans, almost 14 inches of rain fell by midafternoon Sunday. Downpours caused some street flooding Saturday and Sunday, but pumps were sucking up the water and sending it into Lake Pontchartrain. The mayor's office said all 24 of the sewerage and water board pumps were working at capacity.

Low-lying parishes around New Orleans did not fare as well, as Lee's winds drove a tidal surge over levees and onto roads.

"For a while we got some false hope that we might be out of the woods, but we realized overnight we would get more rain," Lafourche Parish spokesman Brennan Matherne said. "We're getting call after call about street flooding."

Flooding in Livingston Parish forced an estimated 200 families from their homes, said Mark Benton, parish director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness.

A possible tornado struck southern Mobile County in Alabama, snapping oak limbs, knocking out power and damaging at least one home. No injuries were reported, but the blast awoke Frank Ledbetter and ripped up the sign for his art gallery.

"It just got louder and louder and louder. I woke my wife up and said, 'It's a tornado.' We just dove into the closet in the bedroom," he said.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Greg Flynn said flooding was reported in Mississippi's six southernmost counties, with some homes flooded with an inch or two of water in coastal Jackson County. Shelters were opened in Jackson and Hancock counties, but few people were using them.

Rupert Lacy, the emergency management director in coastal Harrison County, said at least five homes were damaged there by a suspected tornado. There were no immediate reports of injuries from the wind.

In Lafitte, La., workers and residents were busy sandbagging around homes to stop water pushed up from Barataria Bay by tides and wind.

The small town, which runs along the edge of the Intracoastal Canal and the bay, was under a mandatory evacuation order, but many people ignored it.

"A few more left this morning," Jefferson Parish President John Young said. "The sheriff had to get a few people out using his high-water vehicles."

Forecasters said Lee was expected to maintain tropical storm strength, with maximum sustained winds of at least 39 mph, through Monday as it pushes across Mississippi.

Marc McAllister, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jackson, said Lee is expected to weaken over the coming days, but it could drop 4 to 8 inches of rain as it pushes across Alabama on Tuesday and Wednesday and into Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina. The storm is expected to produce less rain the farther north it gets.

On Alabama's main tourist beaches in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, officials feared Lee would dredge up mats of submerged tar from last year's BP oil spill that could be lurking in shallow water just beyond the surfline.

Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon said the city hadn't received any confirmed reports of fresh oil on the beaches — which were clean and white before the storm — but he wouldn't be surprised if they did.

"We know it's out there, but (the storm) hasn't been that bad here. Maybe the tar mats will just stay out there," Kennon said.

More than 60 percent of U.S. offshore oil production, all based in the Gulf of Mexico, and over 44 percent of offshore gas production were shut as of Saturday, according to the U.S. government. Most of that output should quickly return once the storm passes.

Major offshore producers like Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil Corp and BP Plc shut down platforms and evacuated staff late last week. "Lafitte and Grand Isle have been through so much, with four major hurricanes -- the BP oil disaster hit them right between the eyes -- and you wonder how many times people down there are going to have to deal with this," he said.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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