By JAY REEVES and REBECCA SANTANA, Associated Press
DAUPHIN ISLAND, Ala. (AP) — Blamed for the death of a Florida baby and intense wind and rain that pummeled parts of the northern Gulf of Mexico coast, Tropical Depression Gordon weakened Wednesday but still spread bands of heavy rains across a swath of the South as it swirled over central Mississippi.
It promised more of the same on a forecast track expected to take it northeast into Arkansas, which was forecast to get heavy rain from the system by Wednesday night. By Saturday, what’s left of the storm was forecast to hook to the north, then northeast on a path toward the Great Lakes. National Weather Service offices in Missouri and Oklahoma said Gordon’s remnants could add to the rain caused by a frontal boundary already causing heavy rains in parts of the Midwest. Flash flood watches stretched from the Florida panhandle, through parts of southwest Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa and Illinois.
Gordon never reached hurricane strength by the time it came ashore Tuesday night just west of the Mississippi-Alabama line. Its maximum sustained winds reached 70 mph (112 kph). It knocked out power to at least 27,000 utility customers in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. By Wednesday afternoon the numbers were down to about 5,800 in Alabama, 3,000 in Mississippi and a little more than 2,000 in Florida.
Pictures on social media showed damaged roofs and debris-strewn beaches and roads. However, no major damage or serious injuries were reported, other than the one fatality — a baby in a mobile home, struck by a large tree limb in Pensacola late Tuesday.
Neighbors told the newspaper the victim was about 10 months old, but the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the child was 2 years old.
Michael Barradas told The Pensacola News Journal he heard the loud crack and ran out of his mobile home and yelled, “Is everyone OK?'” He says the mother said, “No my baby’s in there.”
Barradas said he ran back in his home to get a flashlight, but by the time he got to the neighbor’s home the baby had stopped crying.
The Escambia County Sheriff’s office posted on its Facebook page that responding deputies discovered the child had been killed. Officials haven’t released the child’s identity.
Rain spun around the storm’s center in the Jackson, Mississippi, area Wednesday afternoon. And bands swept up from the Gulf, dropping more rain on northwest Florida — where 10.48 inches (26.6 centimeters) had already fallen at Florida’s Pensacola International Airport by Wednesday morning — through the center of Alabama and into Tennessee.
New Orleans, which had braced for severe flooding, was unscathed. And residents along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, which expected a serious hit, were largely spared. A dozen casinos that shut down were allowed to reopen at noon Wednesday. Boaters and fishermen returned to marinas after having fled inland a day before.
“We are happy to report that hotels, casinos, attractions and restaurants have resumed business as usual,” Milton Segarra, CEO of the tourism organization Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast, said in a Wednesday news release.
“It was fine, just like a thunderstorm,” said Pascagoula resident Trey Casey, who had been given the day off from work in anticipation of more serious damage.
“This is the price you pay to look at this beautiful water and enjoy the coast,” Pascagoula resident Richard Whitlock said as he raked leaves and branches from his yard overlooking the Gulf.
Driftwood and other debris made for hazardous driving early Wednesday on the causeway to Dauphin Island, Alabama, which was partly flooded by seawater overnight. Siding was peeled off some houses, but Mayor Jeff Collier said “for the most part, we did OK.”
Dominic Carlucci drove back to his home on the barrier island in his Hummer, and found no damage, just a sagging wooden fence. It wasn’t nearly as bad as when Nate, the last hurricane to strike the U.S., came ashore last October in nearby Biloxi, Mississippi. “We’re good,” he said.
A storm surge covered barrier islands as the storm blew through, and some inland roadways were flooded by the rain.
“I just hope I don’t have to throw out everything in my refrigerator when I get home,” said Jerome Richardson, spending the morning at a Mobile Waffle House after losing power the night before at his home.
With Gordon diminishing, there were new tropical weather concerns: Hurricane Florence has formed in the Atlantic Ocean, on a path toward Bermuda, and lining up behind it, another potential storm was likely to form not far off the coast of Africa.
“It’s the peak of hurricane season,” Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said. “Now is the time to get your plans all set.”
Santana reported from Pascagoula, Mississippi. Other Associated Press contributors include Stacey Plaisance in Gulfport, Mississipi; Gerald Herbert in Biloxi, Mississippi; Kevin McGill in New Orleans; Jeff Martin and Ben Nadler in Atlanta; Emily Wagster Pettus and Jeff Amy in Jackson, Mississippi; Kim Chandler in Montgomery, Alabama; Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina.