Child killed by falling tree as Gordon strikes land

GULFPORT, Miss. — Tropical Storm Gordon never became a hurricane but it was deadly all the same, killing a child by blowing a tree onto a mobile home as it made landfall late Tuesday just west of the Alabama-Mississippi border.

The National Hurricane Center said early Wednesday that Gordon was weakening on a path into Arkansas after striking the coast at 70 mph, just shy of hurricane strength, near Pascagoula, Mississippi. The remnants will likely cause flash flooding across parts of seven states — as far north as Iowa — in coming days.

Gordon’s top sustained winds were down to 40 mph as its tight core moved about 20 miles northwest of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. But it was going out swinging: Forecasters said radar spotted possible tornados spun off by the storm overnight in southern Alabama and the Florida panhandle, and more were possible through tonight in Mississippi and western Alabama.

The center predicted total rain amounts of 4 to 8 inches in the Florida panhandle and parts of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa and Illinois. Forecasters said rainfall could be even more intense in isolated places, dropping up to 12 inches through early Saturday.

Some roadways were flooded, and the National Weather Service in Mobile cautioned that the Styx River near Elsanor, Alabama, could reach moderate, and possibly major, flood stage later today.

But the storm’s impact could have been worse: Gordon gave only a glancing blow to New Orleans, where Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the city has “the pumps and the power” needed to protect residents within the city’s levee protection system.

There were no immediate injury or damage reports, other than the tree that fell on the mobile home in Pensacola. The Escambia County Sheriff’s office posted on its Facebook page that responding deputies discovered that the child had been killed. The name and age were not released.

More than 27,000 customers were without power as Gordon began pushing ashore, mostly in coastal Alabama and the western tip of the Florida Panhandle around Pensacola, with a few hundred in southeastern Mississippi. Crews were already restoring electricity early today in the wake of the storm.

Forecasters had predicted a storm surge along parts of the central Gulf Coast, and skies quickly turned dark gray as the fast-moving storm overshadowed the port city of Mobile, where chairs were lashed together atop tables outside a restaurant in the normally busy entertainment district.

John and Robin Berry of Nashville, Tennessee, vacationing on Dauphin Island, Alabama, had to evacuate the beachfront home they had rented for the week, but they didn’t go very far: “There are no dunes and there’s no protection, so the realty company we rented from moved us across the street and down so that we would be safe,” Robin Berry said just ahead of the storm.

Katrina cut the narrow island in half more than a decade ago, but John Berry wasn’t very worried about Gordon.

“It’s awesome. It’s so beautiful,” he said of the pounding waves.

About 20 miles away on the mainland, dozens of brightly colored shrimp boats were tied up to docks in Bayou La Batre, a seafood town that processes oysters, shrimp and crabs from across the Gulf of Mexico.

The staff at The Hotel Whiskey in Pass Christian, Mississippi — only about a block from the Gulf of Mexico — planned to stay open Tuesday evening as usual, fortified by sandbags to keep out torrential rains, the manager said.

Gulfport was among communities providing sand and bags to residents, and Kenny Macdonald filled them for himself and older residents. MacDonald said such preparations have become all too routine, but are still necessary.

“You don’t know what the intensity of the storm is going to be. You don’t want to take it lightly, of course,” MacDonald said.

The last hurricane to strike the U.S. was Nate last October, coming ashore in Biloxi with 75 mph winds.

Governors in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana all declared states of emergency to better mobilize state resources and National Guard troops for the storm. Mississippi shut down a dozen Gulf Coast casinos. Workers on at least 54 oil and gas production platforms were evacuated.

Mayors of barrier islands in the storm’s path had warned that their communities might get cut off from the mainland.

“When you get the higher waves, water starts splashing across. Sometimes it starts pushing not only water across but debris, logs and things of that nature, which makes it very treacherous to get across,” said Jeff Collier, mayor of Dauphin Island, Alabama.

Gordon was not the only storm being watched by forecasters. Hurricane Florence was some 2,400 miles away from the U.S., and lining up behind it, another potential storm was likely to form not far off the coast of Africa.

It’s way too early to know if either of those storms will have any impact on land, but Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said attention should be paid: “It’s the peak of hurricane season. Now is the time to get your plans all set,” he said.