'One hell of a storm' floods Coast

Streets and waterways flooded throughout South Mississippi when a storm system dumped up to 12 inches of rain over five hours, beginning about 4 a.m. Thursday.

Flooding is not over, because water is running off into streams and rivers. Harrison County Emergency Management Director Rupert Lacy said the Biloxi River is expected to crest Friday at 16.5 feet -- 4 feet above

flood stage. The Wolf River, he said, is forecast to crest at 15 feet, which is 7 feet above flood stage.

"This is going to be a significant flood," he said. "This is going to be more flooding than we've seen in several, several years."

Gulfport, Biloxi and D'Iberville took the brunt of Thursday's storm, Lacy said, with heavy rain moving north to south. Fortunately, he said, no tornadoes touched down.

Sudden flooding

Streets and waterways filled with water so fast some residents and business owners were stranded. The Gulfport police and fire departments reported rescuing 70 residents, some of whom lived along Flat Branch Creek north of Interstate 10.

Mayor Billy Hewes declared a state of emergency in Gulfport, where at least 14 homes and five businesses flooded.

Rain tapered off earlier than anticipated and the sun was shining by 3 p.m. Thursday, when Hewes called a meeting at City Hall. In addition to the flooded homes and rescues, city department heads reported broken gas and water lines, downed power lines and other damage. Dime- and quarter-sized hail north and south of Interstate 10 accompanied the storm, Lacy said.

A rain gauge at Mississippi 53 and U.S. 49 recorded 11.5 inches of rain, and areas to the south in Harrison County saw 6 to 10 inches.

Lacy also said there were 21,000 lightning strikes when the storm was at its worst.

"This was one hell of a system," he said.

Help from all over

A number of agencies swooped in to Harrison County to assist. The state Department of Marine Resources brought in boats, and four sheriff's offices sent reinforcements. Jackson County supplied two 5-ton rescue trucks, a flat-bottom boat and five people. A swift-water rescue team arrived from central Mississippi, and the Gulfport Police Department dispatched two swift-water teams.

Streets were closed countywide. Keesler Air Force Base was temporarily on lockdown early Thursday, Biloxi police said.

Several schools delayed classes Thursday morning, including Gulfport and Harrison County schools. Biloxi schools Superintendent Arthur McMillin sent a note to parents saying all tardies and absences Thursday will be excused because of the weather.

About 8,000 Harrison County residents experienced power outages, according to Mississippi Power. That number had been reduced to about 1,700 by midmorning.

In Harrison County, emergency shelters opened Thursday at the Orange Grove Community Center and on County Farm Road. Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania said the Orange Grove shelter held up to 20 people at one point.

The Red Cross expected more families Thursday night if water remained in homes. The shelter can hold up to 100 people.

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