Cristobal weakens to tropical depression but heavy rains persist

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Cristobal weakened to a tropical depression Monday morning, after crashing ashore as a lopsided tropical storm a day prior in Louisiana and ginned up dangerous weather farther east, sending waves crashing over Mississippi beaches, swamping parts of an Alabama island town and spawning a tornado in Florida.

Cristobal made a Saturday afternoon landfall between the mouth of the Mississippi River and the since-evacuated barrier island resort community of Grand Isle, with 85-kph winds.

Making landfall well under hurricane strength, the storm had begun weakening as it moved inland — but heavy rainfall and a storm surge were continuing along the Gulf Coast, posing a threat across a wide area into the Florida Panhandle.

At 4 a.m. CDT Monday, Cristobal was centred about 64 kilometres north of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, packing slowed winds of 35 mph (56 kmph). With its drenching rains, Cristobal — moving north-northwest at 16 kmph — was expected to keep inundating the northern Gulf Coast well into Monday, but all tropical storm warnings had been discontinued.

Cristobal’s forecast path takes it inland through northeastern Louisiana and southwestern Mississippi on Monday, continuing through Arkansas and eastern Missouri Monday night and Tuesday, and reaching Wisconsin and the western Great Lakes by Wednesday. The National Hurricane Center in Miami said additional weakening was expected through Tuesday but some strengthening was expected Tuesday night and Wednesday.

In New Orleans, the question was how much rain would fall and whether there would be enough breaks in the bands of heavy weather for the beleaguered pumping system to meet its latest test of keeping streets free of flood waters.

Coastal Mississippi news outlets reported stalled cars and trucks as flood waters inundated beaches and crashed over highways. On the City of Biloxi Facebook page, officials said emergency workers helped dozens of motorists through flood waters, mostly on U.S. 90 running along the coast.

In Alabama, the bridge linking the mainland to Dauphin Island was closed much of Sunday. Police and state transportation department vehicles led convoys of motorists to and from the island when breaks in the weather permitted.

Forecasters said up to 30 centimetres of rain could fall in some areas, with storm surges up to 1.5 metres. The weather service warned that the rain would contribute to rivers flooding on the central Gulf Coast and up into the Mississippi Valley.

“It’s very efficient, very tropical rainfall,” National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said in a Facebook video. “It rains a whole bunch real quick.”

Rising water on Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans pushed about 2 feet of water into the first floor of Rudy Horvath’s residence–  a boathouse that sits on pilings over the brackish lake. Horvath said he and his family have lived there a year and have learned to take the occasional flood in stride. They’ve put tables on the lower floor to stack belongings above the high water.

“We thought it would be pretty cool to live out here, and it has been,” Horvath said. “The sunsets are great.


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