NEW ORLEANS — Tropical Storm Bill drenched the Gulf Coast Monday, forcing evacuations along the water, swamping the streets of New Orleans' French Quarter and prompting crews to slam shut the floodgates protecting the low-lying, saucer-shaped city.
Up to a foot of rain was forecast in areas already saturated from previous storms. Pascagoula, Miss., got 8 inches of rain by noon.
Bill — the second tropical storm of the year — had sustained wind of about 60 mph, well short of the 74 mph hurricane threshold. It spread rain across southeastern Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
"Our confidence is pretty high that it's going to be some of the heaviest rain you've seen since Hurricane Lili and Tropical Storm Isidore last year," said Robert Ricks, forecaster for the National Weather Service in Slidell.
Isidore was blamed for four deaths in the United States. Lili, blamed for at least eight deaths in the Caribbean, dumped 10 inches of rain on Louisiana with 100 mph wind, and caused an estimated $700 million in damage.
Water rose above the curbs in the French Quarter, and streets, bars and restaurants were empty. Municipal crews were sent out to slide floodgates into place in the levees surrounding the city, most of which is below sea level. City offices and universities closed early.
At the Original Pierre Maspero's restaurant, manager James Rivas decided to close by 4 p.m. to make sure his staff could get home.
Coastal parishes closed summer camps and government offices, opened storm shelters for residents of low-lying areas and readied sandbags, boats and high-wheeled vehicles.
"Certainly, it's not as dangerous as other storms we've had, but it is a dangerous storm," said Jim Ballow, assistant chief of operations for the Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness.
In Mississippi, people were evacuated from some flood-prone areas because of forecasts of a 3- to 5-foot storm surge combined with a 2-foot high tide.
"Our streets aren't capable of holding this much water, but so far we've had no reports of water in homes," said Jackson County, Miss., Civil Defense Director Todd Adams.
No major problems were expected for Mississippi's Gulf Coast casinos.
Road flooding was blamed for minor traffic accidents in Alabama, which also braced for up to a foot of rain.
On the Net:
National Hurricane Center: www.nhc.noaa.gov