Storm Lee tests New Orleans flood protection, threatens Southeast with heavy rains
After testing New Orleans' flood defenses over the weekend, Tropical Storm Lee moved northeast on Monday after weakening to a tropical depression, and threatened to bring heavy rains and flooding to a large section of the Southeast.
Moving slowly inland, the powerful rainmaker was on course to hit Mississippi on Monday and Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky on Wednesday and Thursday, the U.S. National Hurricane center said.
Even as a tropical depression, the remnants of Lee have the potential to dump 10-15 inches of rain across the Gulf region, forecasters said. Heavy rains are expected to spread into the Tennessee Valley and Southern Appalachians through Tuesday with rainfall of 4-8 inches.
"These rains are expected to cause extensive flooding and flash flooding," the hurricane center said. It added that tornadoes were possible on Monday in sections of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle and southwest Georgia.
The rains could bring to the Tennessee Valley and Appalachian Mountains the same kind of flash flooding seen recently in Vermont after Hurricane Irene.
In Texas, winds from the storm whipped up wildfires that have burned more than 3.5 million acres (1.4 million hectares) of the parched state this season, with 1,000 homes threatened in Bastrop County, just east of Austin.
The National Hurricane Center said the remnants of Lee were 55 miles west-southwest of McComb, Mississippi, with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph around 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT on Monday). The storm was moving east-northeast at 7 mph.
The storm has temporarily shut over 60 percent of offshore oil production.
In New Orleans, flood defenses appeared to pass one of their biggest tests since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005 despite up to 13 inches of rainfall since Lee developed late last week.
Half the city of New Orleans lies below sea level and is protected by a system of levees and flood gates.
Some street flooding was reported, but the city's massive pumping system kept ahead of the volume and diverted the waters into Lake Pontchartrain.
Photo shows Rick Porche walking through his flooded yard as Tropical Storm Lee slowly makes landfall in Lafitte, Louisiana September 4, 2011. Credit: REUTERS/Dan Anderson