Alabama watching new storm closely

Published 12:57 am Saturday, August 30, 2008

BAYOU LA BATRE – Clarence Higgins hauled his oyster boat out of the Mississippi Sound on Friday with plans to leave Bayou La Batre – even though he doesn’t know if Gustav will flood this fishing village the way Hurricane Katrina did three years ago.

The hurricane is moving toward the Gulf of Mexico while the bayou city is showing signs of a full recovery – large shrimp boats flung into the marshes are gone, and a ball park now stands where trailers once housed evacuees.

Locals are hopeful Gustav won’t change that, but those like Higgins aren’t taking any chances.

“I ain’t going to hang around after Katrina,” said the 41-year-old Higgins, who had planted some oyster shells on a reef and planned to stay with relatives at a safe location.

No evacuations have been ordered and no shelters opened, but Gov. Bob Riley declared a state of emergency Friday, which allows officials to coordinate federal relief.

Gustav grew into a Category 1 hurricane Friday and was on track to strike anywhere from the Florida Panhandle to eastern Texas sometime next week.

Marine supply dealer Carl Crenshaw of Bayou La Batre said he’ll decide whether to board up his homes and businesses when Gustav’s track becomes clearer.

“If it keeps going west, there’s no reason to evacuate,” said Crenshaw, eating lunch at his store counter. “Down here we stay prepared all the time.”

Plywood leaned against windows at some businesses, ready if Gustav veered their way. Shipyard worker Tony Goodrum of Irvington bought some rope to tie down his yard furniture and a portable outhouse in nearby coastal Coden.

“I don’t want that to drift away,” he said.

At the Food Tiger, grocery employee Tony Smith said the store has stocked up with bottled water, batteries and canned meat. “Stuff you can keep in a cooler,” he said.

Dauphin Island saw a sample of what may be yet to come after a thunderstorm knocked out the entire island’s electricity from 5:15 a.m. until about 1:15 p.m. Friday. An Alabama Power Co. spokesman said a transmission cable broke during the storm.

Preparing for Gustav, workers trucked away a bathhouse and other structures from the island’s new west end beach, built in June and flooded the next month by Hurricane Dolly.

Blakeney Gillett of Tuscaloosa, a state hydrologist, strolled along the beach and watched as workers trucked away a bathhouse from the island’s new west end beach. It was built in June and flooded the next month by Hurricane Dolly.

“When you fight Mother Nature, Mother Nature is going to win,” she said, warning of hurricane erosion to the manmade sand dunes protecting newly built homes on the Gulf side of the barrier island.

Basking in the 90-degree sunshine, Jason Utesch reclined on a nearby beach with his friend, Paula Capps, both of Mobile.

“If the storm surge is about 12 feet, I’m gone,” he said. He said he can watch the storm waters rise from his Dog River home and has already stocked up for a storm.

Back in Coden, convenience store operator Miranda Bosarge said customers stocking up on gasoline have nearly tapped the 10,000 gallons her station received Thursday.

“People’s main fear is gas prices skyrocketing,” she said.