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Alabama's "lessons learned" from Hurricane Ida.

APR Gulf coast correspondent Guy Busby

Hurricane forecasters are keeping an eye on a system that could become Tropical Storm Mindy. This follows the ongoing cleanup from Hurricane Ida that killed two people in Alabama and did widespread damage in Louisiana. Disaster managers in Alabama are looking at lessons learned from Ida as they prepare for what the current hurricane may have in store.

Hurricane Ida did little damage in Alabama. That’s the good news. But, Gulf Coast residents are looking at this near miss as a reminder of what happened with Tropical Storm Charlotte that killed twelve people in Alabama back in June. That’s on top of the damage Hurricanes Sally and Zeta did last year.

“We all dodged a bullet it looks like. It just could have been unbelievably rough,” said Grant Brown, Gulf Shores public information officer. He’s referring to Alabama’s near miss from the fury of Ida.

APR Gulf coast correspondent Guy Busby

“We were thinking about if it turned, the short window of opportunity to even move people out of here,” said Brown. “We were at about 68 percent occupancy and if it had shifted, we’d have had less than two days to get all the people that are vacationing here, 15,000 Gulf Shores residents, Fort Morgan residents, Orange Beach, only two bridges to get off the island.”

Brown says that while some streets were flooded, Ida did little major damage on the Alabama coast.

“We were very fortunate,” recalled Brown. “We had no significant infrastructure damage. Some flooded roadways when the storm surge pushed up and the lagoon filled with water from rain and was not able to drain out into the Gulf and so the typical avenues that flood on the south side of the lagoon had water over them, making them impassible to vehicles, but never got into homes or houses and never threatened anybody’s health and well being.”

Across Mobile Bay on Dauphin Island, Mayor Jeff Collier says they were preparing for a possible major hit.

APR Gulf correspondent Guy Busby

“Well, it could have been a lot worse,” said Collier. “Obviously, it could have been a lot worse. We did pretty well. I mean, pretty much what happened is what we expected. You know, we had some issues with the causeway, but the biggest problem is on the west end where we had a lot of saltwater wash over and sand in the roads and that’s going to take a while to get that all moved out of the way again. So, we’ve done it before.”

Collier says sand blocking some roads kept utility crews from starting repairs.

“Because of the sand down there, the power company can’t get all the electricity restored. We’ve got about eight or 10 poles down in that area and we’ve got to get the sand off the roads so they can get the trucks into the area. So, one’s waiting on the other,” said Collier.”

“I can tell you that we did have a little bit of erosion and surge around areas of Mobile Bay and our coastal communities. I think it was all very close to about the same amount, but it was spread out,” said Zach Hood. He’s Baldwin County’s Emergency Management Agency director.

“Ida was such a broad storm. We were very fortunate that we didn’t have some of the cells producing tornadoes and causing damage immediately within our county, so we were very fortunate,” said Hood.

Hood says the storm surge covered the Mobile Bay Causeway for about two days, but the highway reopened later in the week.

NOAA

“The Causeway stayed flooded with each high tide cycle,” said Hood. “I think we saw two or three different cycles, but as far as I know, ALDOT is not reporting any damage. They did have to clean up. What will happen, that flood will come in and bring in a little debris and as that water recedes the debris lies in the road. They immediately go through and start sweeping the debris and that’s just something we deal with being on the coast. Ida didn’t do a lot of damage in Alabama, but it served as a big reminder of what a storm can do and how fast things can change.So what we can argue here on the coast is we may have a Cat 1 but going into, as it gets closer to landfall, that Cat 1, we’ve got to know could easily be a Cat 3, especially in August, actually August, September, October, November. We know that rapid intensification is a real concept and it really is all we have seen in the last five years after the fifth of August. That’s the majority of your named storms come after the beginning of August.”

Hood says another lesson is that a major hurricane, like Ida, doesn’t just affect the area where it comes ashore.

APR Gulf coast correspondent Guy Busby

“Look at how many of the parishes that were impacted that were not coastal. It’s easy to look at Mobile and Baldwin County and say ‘well, I’m not on the coast, I don’t necessarily need to be prepared for a hurricane.’ We hope that that’s the case, but we want to make very clear is you need to look at the parishes that were impacted,” Hood said. “Look at where the storm made landfall look at the widespread damage and power outage. You shift that east a bit. You make that Baldwin or Mobile County, we could argue that the whole southwestern division of Alabama, which is, we’re division 8 for the state Emergency Management Agency. You can look at most of Division A would be without power if not all. This is just as important in Clarke County and Washington County and Montgomery as we saw last year with Zeta from Tuscaloosa County over to Cherokee County.”

As with previous storms, residents will learn new lessons, clean up the debris and prepare for the next one.

“We still have a lot of cleanup to be done in there, but other than that, like I said, it could have been a lot worse, so I guess we’ll have to settle for what we’ve got,” said Hood.

Editor's Note— APR Gulf coast correspondent Guy Busby helped Alabama Public Radio win its 4th national Sigma Delta Chi award. He contributed content to our documentary "Oil and Water: 10 Years Later," on the 10th anniversary of the BP Gulf oil spill. Click below to hear the program.

Guy Busby is an Alabama native and lifelong Gulf Coast resident. He has been covering people, events and interesting occurrences on America’s South Coast for more than 20 years. His experiences include riding in hot-air balloons and watching a ship being sunk as a diving reef. His awards include a national Sigma Delta Chi award from the Society of Professional Journalists as part of the APR team on the series “Oil and Water,” on the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Some of his other interests include writing, photography and history. He and his wife, Elizabeth, live in Silverhill.
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