Hurricane Ivan slammed ashore in Gulf Shores, Ala., early Thursday with winds of 130 mph, packing deadly tornadoes and a powerful punch of waves and rain that threatened to swamp communities from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle.
Forecasters said the worst could be yet to come, as up to 15 inches of rain were expected as the storm moved inland. At least 12 deaths were blamed on the storm. The storm weakened as it moved inland, but remained a Category 1 hurricane with winds of 80 mph more than four hours after landfall.
The National Weather Service issued a flood watch for as far away as North Carolina, which suffered heavy flooding last week from the remnants of Hurricane Frances. The heavy rain also could trigger mud and rock slides.
Ivan knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people, toppled trees, ripped off roofs and sent street signs hurtling through the night. At least 260,000 homes and businesses were without power in Alabama, 36,500 in Louisiana, 70,000 in Mississippi. More than 300,000 customers were without power in the four westernmost Florida Panhandle counties.
“We have never seen a hurricane of this size come into Alabama,” said Gov. Bob Riley, who earlier asked President Bush to declare much of the state a disaster area, a request that was granted.
Max Mayfield, the director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, warned that the misery would spread as Ivan moves across the Southeast in the hours and days ahead. “I hate to think about what’s going to happen inland,” he said.
At 8 a.m. EDT, Ivan was centered about 90 miles west-southwest of Montgomery, Ala., and was moving north at 17 mph. Forecasters projected a path that could take Ivan on a northeastern march across most of the South and parts of the Midwest. They predicted hurricane-force winds could blast the coast for nearly 20 hours.
A hurricane warning for New Orleans was lifted early Thursday, but one remained in effect from the mouth of the Pearl River to Apalachicola, Fla. Hurricane-force winds extended out 105 miles from the Category 3 storm that earlier killed at least 68 people across the Caribbean.
An 11th-hour shift spared New Orleans a direct hit. Parts of the city saw only sporadic, light rain overnight.
Ivan’s waves — some up to 25 feet — destroyed homes along the Florida coast Wednesday. Twelve-foot waves boomed ashore at Gulf Shores, eroding the beach. A buoy about 300 miles south of Panama City registered one wave of 50 feet high.