Gustav leftovers keep area soggy|7.45 inches of rain here in two days

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Gustav proved to be the storm that wouldn’t leave today, adding another 3.4 inches of rain to the 4.05 inches officially recorded in the first 24 hours after what had been a hurricane moved inland Monday.

Most schools reopened for classes, however, and most power was restored. As rain continued to fall through the morning, officials described most problems as minor.

“We had no major accidents,” said Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace this morning. “Most were things like sliding off the road.”

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The official weather station is at the Vicksburg Water Treatment Plant at the Port of Vicksburg. By 7 a.m. today, 3.4 inches had been recorded there, for a total of 7.45 inches in the 48 hours since Monday morning. Heavier amounts were recorded near Redwood, up to 4.46 inches in 24 hours. A flash flood watch was in effect in Warren County this morning, and the region was expected to remain on a tornado watch at least until 1 p.m., although winds had subsided from their peak. Rain is expected to continue into Thursday.

Nearly 35 downed trees were reported on streets from Letitia to Cain Ridge to Washington Street, on U.S. 61 North and South, and on Interstate 20. A dozen power-line emergencies were reported to Vicksburg’s 911 emergency center Tuesday and Tuesday night, and nearly two dozen car accidents were also reported.

The intersection of Paxton Road and Old Highway 27 had to be closed for a time this morning after heavy rainfall left the area under water, Pace said, but was expected to clear quickly and be reopened.

By this morning, mudslides were being reported on East Avenue , Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and China Grove Road.

Floods were reported in Madison Parish, where the sheriff’s office said free sandbags were available to anyone needing to shore up perimeters around homes and buildings.

While classes resumed, an expensive problem was avoided at Warrenton Elementary. A tree had knocked out power there around 5 p.m. Monday. “We had just stocked the freezer with a week’s worth of food,” said superintendent James Price Tuesday afternoon. Power was restored at Warrenton around 1 p.m. , in plenty of time to keep food supplies safe, said director of child nutrition Gail Kavanaugh this morning. “We were very fortunate. The last time we did lose some during Katrina, but this time all of our food products are fine.” Another power outage was reported at the school this morning, but further details were unavailable.

Warren Central High School, Beechwood Elementary and Hinds Community College, all along Mississippi 27, had power outages Tuesday morning, but electricity was restored by midday.

Don Arnold, spokesman for Entergy, said this morning that 267 customers remained without power in Warren County, compared with 2,013 at the storm’s peak. Most service was expected to be restored by the end of today, Arnold said, unless electrical repair work needed to be done at individual homes. All power had been restored in Claiborne County, Arnold said.

Alcorn State College cancelled classes through the end of the week because of power outages and flooding, said LLJuna Weir, director of public relations. “We’re concerned about the safety of students on the highways,” Weir said. The 200 students who are in Alcorn’s dormitories had power and food service, she said.

Vicksburg-area shelters were at capacity for a second night with coastal evacuees, said Janice Sawyer, emergency services director for Vicksburg’s American Red Cross chapter. Even though some people had begun to leave, others arrived to take their places, Sawyer said. “We have some people starting to come out of hotels as they begin to run out of funds. They’re looking for shelter and we take them in.”

As roads begin to clear down south, however, evacuees will begin returning home. “If there is no danger we’ve got people who are ready to go, even if it’s just to get closer to home,” Sawyer added. “They’re ready to travel — they just don’t know what damage they will find when they get home, or if there will be power.”

Evacuees Roger and Marian Worcester have been at Travel Inn since Saturday, having evacuated Destrehan, La., just west of New Orleans, with their daughter, a cat, and a dog. They were planning to leave this morning for home, having been assured by a neighbor there is power and no damage to their home.

“We’ve never been to Vicksburg before,” Roger Worcester said, “but in the future this is where we’ll always come.” The couple, who have lived near New Orleans since 1985 and evacuated many times, had high praise for Vicksburg innkeepers Victor and Apla Patel, who they said held four additional rooms for friends who were frantically looking for a place to go Sunday. “He went out of his way to accommodate people with rooms that he didn’t have to provide,” he said. “He could have rented them to other people.”

Sawyer had similar praise for shelter volunteers who have helped evacuees. “The shelter managers have done an excellent job sheltering these people,” Sawyer said this morning and praised local area churches for opening their doors and cooking meals. The numbers are probably going to drop today, as evacuees begin to head home, she said, but as long as people need them they will remain open. “We’re not going to close the shelters, but we may start combining them as people start to return home.”

More than 100 volunteers are staffing seven shelters maintained by the Vicksburg chapter.

“We can always use financial donations,” Sawyer said. “We know what the shelters need, and financial support enables us to continue feeding the people in our shelters.” The Red Cross provides three meals plus snacks each day, plus linens and towels.” Checks can be made payable to the American Red Cross and sent to the Vicksburg area chapter at 908 Cherry St., Vicksburg, MS 39183.