Storm floods parts of Alabama, Mississippi

Published 1:17 am Sunday, March 29, 2009

BILOXI, Miss. — A spring storm dumped heavy rains, baseball-sized hail and whipped up winds across the Southeast on Saturday, flooding homes and cars in parts of Mississippi and Alabama.

The system also hit the central part of the country with snow, prompting blizzard warnings and a disaster declaration in Kansas and was blamed for two traffic deaths in Oklahoma.

About 100 roads in southern Mississippi were impassable at the height of the bad weather because of the flooding, including the main route into Biloxi, Harrison County Emergency Management Director Rupert Lacy said. Some residents had to be rescued from their stalled and stranded cars, and others were helped from their flooded homes, Lacy said.

The Biloxi area had 5 to 10 inches of rain in a 24-hour period, said Bobby Weaver, operations chief for the county emergency agency. He said a few people took refuge overnight in a Red Cross shelter, but left Saturday.

People were evacuated from about a dozen homes in Geneva County in southeast Alabama because of flooding, said Margaret Mixon, the county’s emergency management director. And all roads in the county were closed because of the flooding, Mixon said.

Tornado watches and warnings were issued across the region, which is still reeling from twisters over the past two days. On Thursday, nearly 30 people were hurt when a tornado destroyed dozens of homes and businesses across south-central Mississippi. On Friday, tornadoes struck Louisiana, Alabama and North Carolina, damaging homes and toppling trees.

“We’ve still got water standing in a lot of areas,” Lacy said. “Some of the rivers are still coming up, that’s our biggest concern right now, protecting life and property.”

Weaver said two rivers in the Biloxi area — the Tchoutacabouffa and the Biloxi — were expected to crest early Sunday. But neither river is located in a heavily populated area, he said.

Up to 17 inches had fallen over three days in isolated areas in Alabama and Mississippi, said National Weather Service meteorologist Kirk Caceras.

In Mississippi, Lacy said officials were still trying to determine how many homes had been flooded and the extent of the damage.

“We have springtime storms,” Lacy said. “But this is a very unusual springtime storm.”

To the west, blizzard warnings were in effect until Saturday afternoon for parts of the Texas Panhandle as snow stranded people indoors and left highways closed.

The storm also buried parts of Kansas in more than two feet of snow and knocked out power to at least 17,000 homes and businesses. Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed a declaration of disaster emergency that covered 62 counties and allows state resources and personnel to help local officials deal with storm damage.

The National Weather Service said the heaviest snow in Kansas by Saturday morning was 28 inches around the Pratt area. Other areas of Kansas reported snow drifts up to six feet high.

The storm also dumped heavy snow on parts of Oklahoma. It was blamed for two deadly accidents in central Oklahoma and dozens of other collisions in northwest Oklahoma.