Lili's Northern Trek Proves To Be Uneventful

By ALLEN G. BREED, Associated Press Writer

POINTE AUX CHENES, La. (AP) - Tropical Storm Lili spun out of Louisiana early Friday, leaving behind a trail of muck and misery as residents contended with widespread wind and flood damage and the prospect of days without power.

Lili lost strength Thursday after coming ashore at Marsh Island as a Category 2 hurricane with 100 mph winds. Officials breathed a collective sigh of relief that there were only a handful of injuries and no reported storm-related deaths along the Gulf Coast.

Not much was left of Lili by the time it reached Tennessee, and the storm was blowing through the state quickly.

National Weather Service forecasters in Memphis canceled a flood watch and said rain from the storm should be moderate. Jackson, about 75 miles northeast of Memphis, had earlier gotten heavy rain and 25 mph winds, with gusts up to 35 mph.

As for northeast Ohio, the remnants of Lili did nothing but give the region a good soaking early Friday evening. Action News Chief Meteorologist Bruce Kalinowski said that it was similar to what the Buckeye State saw last week from Isidore, though the duration of the storm was not nearly as long.

Lili had been a Category 4 hurricane packing terrifying 145-mph winds before it inexplicably weakened and hit land.

Along the coast, ripped-up roofing, felled trees, downed power lines, mud and debris littered a landscape already sodden by Tropical Storm Isidore one week earlier.

Water 4 to 8 feet deep swirled across roads and into numerous houses in Pointe Aux Chenes. At times, the driver of a National Guard truck that was used to rescue residents had no idea where the road actually ran. Guardsmen had to get out and walk through waist-deep water to guide him through.

Many houses in the area were built above ground on pylons or pier foundations that minimized damage, but other homes were hit hard.

"The houses that are on concrete slabs, they're going to be completely lost," Lt. Jason Coulter said. "It's a mess."

A combination of storm surges and rain caused levees to fail in Montegut and Franklin, where flood waters threatened hundreds of homes.

"I'd say right now at least 75 percent of the town got water in it," said Spencer Rhodes, fire chief in Montegut, a town of 4,000 about 40 miles southwest of New Orleans.

Rescue crews in big National Guard trucks evacuated 500 to 600 Montegut residents who had failed to heed calls to evacuate.

"The water just kept piling up and piling up," said Sam LeBouef, as he dragged an aluminum boat down the middle of a flooded street. "It just had to go."

He said his house had never flooded before but this time he had knee-high water in his carport.

It was even worse in Grand Isle, the vulnerable barrier island community south of New Orleans. "Most of the island is under water," Police Chief Edward Bradberry said.

Farther west along the Louisiana coast, rural Vermillion Parish was spared flooding but ravaged by high winds that shattered windows, tipped over mobile homes and knocked out power to all of its 19,800 homes.

The entire parish had been under a mandatory evacuation order. Robert J. LeBlanc, the parish emergency preparedness director, asked that no one return until late Friday to give work crews time to clear roads of trees and telephone poles.

"And if they do come back they must not expect to have power for a week to 14 days," LeBlanc added.

Gusts as high as 92 mph hurled pieces of metal through the air in New Iberia and blew down a 50-foot-high sign at the Holiday Inn.

In Rayne, tin roofing that was ripped away from a lumber warehouse lay across the railroad tracks, curled up like giant potato chips. Nearby, Paul Bott, a 50-year-old oil worker, set up buckets in his bathroom to catch rainwater cascading from holes punched through his roof by a fallen tree.

"It ain't doing any good," he said.

President Bush declared a disaster in Louisiana, making communities that suffered from the storm eligible for federal aid.

By the time Lili arrived, some 900,000 people in coastal Louisiana and another 330,000 in far eastern Texas had been ordered or advised to leave their homes. Nearly 17,000 of them stayed at 98 emergency shelters.

"There is no real way to tell how many people evacuated," said Col. Jay Mayeaux of the Louisiana National Guard. "Some of them could have gone to mama's house."

Thousands who took refuge in more northern parts of the state couldn't escape power outages, which affected hundreds of thousands of customers from the coast north through Alexandria.

Some residents in the Lafayette were told they might be without power for five to seven days. One family, not wanting its stock of shrimp to spoil in its thawing freezer, fired up a gas grill and cooked it all, inviting neighbors to indulge in an impromptu Cajun barbecue.

An estimated 400,000 homes were still without power Friday morning.

Earlier this week, Lili killed eight people in the Caribbean.

National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield was at a loss to explain the hurricane's fluctuations in the Gulf of Mexico. While colder water in the northern Gulf might explain why the hurricane weakened on Thursday, it did not explain why it had gained strength so dramatically the night before.

"A lot of Ph.D.s will be written about this," he said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)