Flooding main concern as recovery starts

Emergency Management Director Donald Langham (pictured) said local and county officials on the Coast are beginning to assess the damage from Hurricane Isaac.

GULFPORT – (AP) Isaac is gone and now the focus turns to cleanup with an eye to rising rivers in south Mississippi.

In Jackson County, Emergency Management Director Donald Langham said local officials will being documenting Isaac’s damage.

“We have quite a bit that has to be done in terms of reports and assessments,” Langham said.

He said county departments will be out in force to assess residential, business and infrastructure damages.

Learning the extent of and documenting flood and wind damages is an essential part of setting up the county and its residents for federal assistance, if any funds are made available, he said.

The assessments process will ramp up next week, Langham said, as workers photograph damages, make reports and measure water lines.

The National Guard was still being staged in the Helena area to assist with calls.

Hurricane Isaac sent flood waters to swamp a Burger King, a Juan Tequila's, and a Cajun Crawfish Hut eatery along US 90 in Gulfport.

“The rain forecast looks like we could expect 2.5 more inches through the weekend,” Langham said. “We’re looking at strictly river flooding from now on.”

The Pascagoula and Escatawpa rivers continued to rise Saturday with more flooding in the forecast over the next few days, according to the National Weather Service.

Flood warnings remained in effect through the weekend.

One area of concern was the Escatawpa River above the Orange Grove community. At 10:30 p.m. on Friday, the stage was at 10.9 feet and the flood stage is 8 feet. The Escatawpa Rivers is expected to crest Sunday evening at 11.5 feet, then begin falling.

The Pascagoula River is forecast to crest at 24.5 feet on Monday evening, 2.5 feet above flood stage. These forecast are based on rain that has fallen and will be adjusted should more rain fall.

“As that water travels downstream, it’ll spread out into tributaries and streams. There probably won’t be a noticeable difference to anyone, and if it is, it’ll be a matter of inches,” Langham said.

In Harrison County, people sipped coffee at outdoor cafes and jogged along the beach as boats passed, leaving the safe harbor of the Back Bay and rivers and heading out into the Mississippi Sound. Walkers were back on the Biloxi Bay Bridge.

All of Biloxi’s casinos had reopened by Friday.

Crews have sand and debris to clear off U.S. Highway 90 and motorists are asked to stay off the highway and let them get the work done.

About half of the 200 evacuees stationed at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson left Friday. Families were coming and going, shelter volunteers said.

Roneika Small, 27, and 25 relatives packed their cars and headed home to St. John Parish in Louisiana.

“My house is under water,” said Small. Her family drove to Jackson after her father was rescued from his home as it was flooding.

“We’re going to Jefferson Parish to be with family,” she said.

The coliseum and New Horizon Church Family Life Center were two of 31 American Red Cross shelters in south and central Mississippi, and two other shelters are open in Jackson and Clinton.

Calvin Turner from LaPlace, La., was ready to leave the coliseum Friday.

“There had never been flooding in LaPlace before, so we decided we had to run. The house is flooded, a lot of homes are under water,” he said.

In Hancock County, one of the most severely affected areas on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the slow movement of Isaac pushed water into residential areas, bringing floodwaters into areas that were not expected to be affected, officials said.

Cleanup is now the focus, Coast Guard Petty Officer Andrew Murphy said.

“Most of the damage came from the water, not so much the wind,” he said. “We seem to be shaping up pretty well.”

Pearlington resident Lillie Tzunanos has lived in the city 35 years and has had her fair share of hurricane experiences. Having lost everything to Hurricane Katrina, she said she felt she was at least a little better off this time.

Tzananos’s 8-foot raised home had only 4 feet of water surrounding it, but her garage with all her craft-show supplies was completely ruined.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate paid a visit Friday to the Hancock County Emergency Preparedness Center and said first priority is individual assessments and the second phase will focus more on public assistance mitigations.

Fugate said he would send more core district personnel to Hancock County to analyze the damage.

Supervisor Steven Seymour said the ideal plan would be to use any money received from FEMA to not only restore the area, but also to build a more secure, resilient community and continue to improve upon disaster preparedness.

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