Hurricane Isaac Cleanup Begins In Mississippi

In Gulfport, Miss., the rains let up enough at times Thursday for recovery crews to get busy. Water is everywhere, making driving tricky. Flooded roadways have prevented people who evacuated from returning to their homes after the storm.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK. Isaac was a hurricane, then a tropical storm, and late last night it was downgraded to a tropical depression. But what's left of Isaac is still wreaking havoc on the Gulf Coast and beyond, as the storm moves inland. The main problem is flash flooding brought on by days of drenching rains that have strained dams and levees, and sent bays, rivers, and creeks swelling over their banks. The lingering effects of Isaac are complicating the cleanup, as NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: In Gulfport, Mississippi the rains let up enough at times yesterday for recovery crews to get busy.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING)

ELLIOTT: The state transportation department had front end loaders scooping sand off U.S. Highway 90 as a stiff breeze blew in over the Mississippi Sound. Crews could only work on sections, because parts of the main beach remained under water. And water is everywhere, making driving tricky. Flooded roadways have prevented people who evacuated from returning to their homes after the storm.

In Ocean Springs, Fort Bayou receded enough Thursday, for Chris Balius and his son Tommy to row in from the Danny & Deanie(ph), his shrimp boat.

CHRIS BALIUS: We stay with our boats in the storms. Can't leave them.

ELLIOTT: They've been on the boat since Monday, tied up to big trees on the bank of the bayou along with other vessels seeking safe harbor from Isaac.

BALIUS: We watched the water come up and we're watching it go down. Just another day in the life of a fisherman.

ELLIOTT: Unlike others on the Mississippi coast, he isn't surprised by the extent of Isaac's damage. Balius says no one can know for sure what a storm may or may not do.

BALIUS: You can have a little bitty tropical storm give you all kind of fits and have a hurricane blow through in a few hours and be gone. You never know.

ELLIOTT: Isaac certainly didn't blow through. Pascagoula felt the worst of the storm yesterday - a day and half after Isaac made landfall.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAIN)

ELLIOTT: Torrential rains turned streets into flowing rivers, and sent floodwaters rising so rapidly some residents didn't have time to get out.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

ELLIOTT: At the Jackson County Emergency Operations Center, teams fielded calls for rescues.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: OK. We've got people calling, who want to go to a shelter.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I can get that taken care of.

ELLIOTT: So between driving rain storms and tornado warnings, police and National Guard troops fanned out with boats, pickup trucks and Humvees. They got more than 500 people to safety. Jackson County spokeswoman Monica Cooper says many of the last minute evacuees thought they had escaped the storm.

MONICA COOPER: I think that we did not anticipate how long the storm was going to sit over us. And we have received in excess of 30 inches of rain in the last 48 hours.

ELLIOTT: Billy and Lisa Epps were among the Pascagoula residents who did leave in advance of Isaac, and returned home late yesterday to find floodwaters receding from the lower level of their house.

LISA EPPS: Oh, God. Oh, yeah. It's everywhere. I put my plants and stuff down here. And it just, it just flooded it.

ELLIOTT: Mud covers the floor, and you can see a water mark about a foot up a cabinet.

BILLY EPPS: And you see it got up in here pretty high, didn't it?

ELLIOTT: Outside, water is ankle deep in the yard. The front door mat floated all the way around back, where Epps checks on everything he tied down before the storm.

EPPS: Yeah, you got a lot of water back here. Yeah, the trampoline's still there. But look how much water's there still. Lot of water.

ELLIOTT: He steps gingerly, on the lookout for snakes. Some flood victims have found snakes and alligators washed in by the storm. The Epps evacuated north, but didn't exactly end up safe from Isaac. While they sheltered with family, a tree demolished his pickup truck.

EPPS: Big old oak tree, 100 year old oak tree, fell, and it's really totaled. It caved the whole top in and everything.

ELLIOTT: But that can be replaced, Epps says. The main thing is everyone is all right. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Gulfport, Mississippi.

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