Gustav Brings High Wind, Coastal Flooding To MS

GULFPORT, MS (AP) - Hurricane Gustav hit the Mississippi coast Monday with driving winds as well as a storm surge that flooded hundreds of homes and inundated main highways to coastal towns devastated by Katrina three years ago. There were no immediate reports of storm-related injuries.

Gustav's impact appeared to be more mild compared with Hurricane Katrina. National Guard soldiers in Humvees scoured the streets in Bay St. Louis and Waveland in Hancock County, looking for people in need.

"We had search and rescue going into the Jordan River Shores area in Hancock County. They rescued three people because of the flooding in there. One man was critically ill and paramedics were treating him," said Greg Flynn of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

Flynn said the National Hurricane Center the storm surge at Waveland, on the Louisiana side of the state, reached 11 feet, below an earlier estimate of 15 feet. The storm surge at Pascagoula, in Jackson County on the eastern side of the state, was 6-1/2 feet.

A fatal auto accident in Pike County, in southwest Mississippi, was being listed as a storm death. Flynn had no details on the wreck.

Tim Kellar, a spokesman for Hancock County, said wind damage was minimal, but the storm surge rolled in at high tide, which caused extensive flooding to homes. In Bay St. Louis, pounding waves washed out a bluff, leaving gaping holes in a beach road. Kellar said officials are still assessing damage.

When asked how many homes were damaged, Kellar responded: "Without question, it's going to be in the hundreds."

The main road into southern Hancock County, Mississippi Highway 43, was closed due to flooding, effectively cutting off the area.

In Harrison County, white caps topped a sea wall and swamped coastal U.S. Highway 90 with murky, debris-filled water. Wind gusts were recorded at well over 50 mph. An abandoned building in Gulfport collapsed and there were a few flooded homes in Biloxi.

A white sailboat, "the Wind Song," was left grounded in the middle of sand-covered U.S. 90 along Biloxi's casino row. The boat had a hole in the side. Debris blew elsewhere along the highway.

The ground floor of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Biloxi was flooded and wind-whipped water continued to splash into its parking garage Monday afternoon. Hurricane Katrina smashed the casino three years ago shortly before it was to open.

Bobby Tuber, the casino's facility-grounds manager, said the storm put about 30 inches of water in the building but the casino itself, located on an upper level, was not damaged.

"We're fine. We'll come out all well," Tuber said as he and others used a pump and a large hose to remove the water.

In Jackson County, some 15 roads were impassable due to high water.

In southwest Mississippi near the Louisiana border, debris temporarily blocked Interstate 59 from Picayune to Poplarville.

Flynn said 100 homes flooded in Pearlington, a town near the Louisiana border that was entirely submerged during Katrina because it was so close to the Gulf of Mexico and the river. Every building flooded and the community had an estimated average storm surge height of about 19 feet.

Gov. Haley Barbour said that while Gustav's punch was nothing like Katrina, residents should not try to return to the Gulf Coast until Wednesday.

"We said we were going to pray for the best and prepare for the worst. We almost got what we prayed for," Barbour said at an afternoon briefing.

A dusk-to-dawn curfew was in effect all along the coast. Thousands of soldiers, state troopers and local police keeping watch on evacuees' homes and property, the governor said. He warned that many roads are covered by storm waters and, once that water drains, there could be weak spots that would trigger accidents.

As many as 64,000 residences were without power, and more than 14,250 people were living in shelters in Mississippi, including 3,134 in the state's six southernmost counties, officials said.

One of them, Wayne "Old Trader" Smith, 61, had thought about riding out the storm in a camper he owns, but quickly changed his mind when it began to rock in the wind.

"It started rocking and it hadn't even gotten bad yet, so I said I had better get out of here," Smith said.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)