Tropical Storm Lee spawns tornadoes on Gulf Coast

MOBILE, Ala Sun Sep 4, 2011 1:47pm EDT

Rick Porche (bottom right) walks through his flooded yard as Tropical Storm Lee slowly makes landfall in Lafitte, Louisiana USA on September 4, 2011. REUTERS/Dan Anderson

Rick Porche (bottom right) walks through his flooded yard as Tropical Storm Lee slowly makes landfall in Lafitte, Louisiana USA on September 4, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Dan Anderson

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MOBILE, Ala (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Lee spawned tornado sightings and alerts from the Louisiana Gulf Coast to the Florida panhandle on Sunday, and at least one death was reported from a traffic accident related to the storm.

More than a dozen tornado sightings were reported, and tornado warnings were in effect Sunday afternoon for portions of Baldwin and Mobile counties in southwest Alabama and Greene, Jasper, Perry and Wayne counties in southern Mississippi, according to the National Weather Service.

Weather officials had not confirmed any tornadoes touching down in the area on Sunday afternoon, but were tracking at least three twisters and funnel clouds near Mobile, Alabama, and central Mississippi near Hattiesburg.

Tornado watches stretched from southeast Mississippi, through a dozen counties in southwest Alabama and several more in the Florida Panhandle. Tornado watches also reached into southwest Georgia on Sunday afternoon, set to expire late in the evening, as rain from Lee edged eastward.

Wet conditions associated with Tropical Storm Lee's landfall appeared to be a factor in an early-morning car wreck in Mobile, Alabama, that killed one man and left several others injured, authorities said.

The single-vehicle crash around 4 a.m. local time Sunday killed Dataurius Nurell Parker of Lucedale, Mississippi, and injured four passengers.

Mobile police investigators said none were wearing seat belts and believed wet conditions contributed to Parker losing control of the car and striking a utility pole.

The death in Alabama was the second of the weekend that authorities linked to the storm. A Texas man drowned on Saturday when he lost his boogie board in the choppy water off a Galveston beach. His body was recovered about 150 yards from the beach a few hours later.

Weather officials were assessing the damage reported from a tornado that touched down in the Gulfport, Mississippi area just after midnight on Sunday. Several people were sent to area hospitals for treatment of minor injuries. Officials described the damage to homes as minor.

"We don't have a total number of homes damaged yet, but a (national) weather service assessment team is coming to check it out," said Rupert Lacy, emergency management director at the Harrison County Emergency Operations Center.

Emergency management officials in Mobile County, Alabama, also confirmed a tornado touched down in the southern part of that county early on Sunday morning, downing power lines and trees. No injuries have been reported.

In Mobile on Sunday, sunny skies and brisk winds gave the appearance of calm as the heaviest rains remained to the west.

Severe storm warnings in southeast Mississippi were set to expire late Sunday morning, but officials were watching for more activity. A tornado watch is in effect for all of coastal Mississippi and Alabama and extends to Destin, Fla. until the afternoon.

Response crews are especially attuned to the threat of tornadoes after devastating twisters ravaged northern Alabama on April 27, killing more than 230 people and leveling portions of Tuscaloosa, Concord and Pleasant Grove.

"We know the heavy-duty rain is a little to the west of us, so we're going to see showers and continued flooding in low-lying areas where the ground is already super saturated. But tomorrow there's going to be a shift in the winds that should give us a little relief, and we're really looking forward to it," Lacy said.

Emergency management officials in Hancock County, Mississippi, also reported a mobile home flipped just before midnight, but no injuries were reported.

In Pascagoula, Mississippi, where residents were evacuated from two low-lying areas late Saturday night, officials said they were "standing ready" for flood issues as heavy rain was expected to move through the area Sunday afternoon.

"We've been fortunate enough to remain outside the major rain bands the last 18 to 20 hours, and that's given us an opportunity for our flooded areas to recede a little since yesterday," Terry Jackson, deputy director of the Jackson County Emergency Management Agency, said Sunday.

Some 40 people had been evacuated Saturday night from the Moss Point community and another 14 were evacuated from the Briarwood subdivision as floodwaters rose.

The main brunt of the storm's torrential rain was falling further west in Louisiana, particularly in coastal areas and the New Orleans metropolitan area, although there were no signs of major flooding like the devastating 2005 Hurricane Katrina.

(Edited by Karen Brooks and Greg McCune)

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