Spared Isaac's worst, Ala. coast looks to holiday
GULF SHORES, Ala. (AP) — Soaked but mostly unbroken by a brush with Hurricane Isaac, Alabama's costal residents went to work scooping sand off beach streets and restoring power Wednesday in hopes the storm won't scare away tourists for the Labor Day weekend.
While there were scattered blackouts and minor road flooding in low-lying areas along the coast in Baldwin and Mobile counties, few buildings were damaged and no more than a few thousand people were without electricity at any time. The biggest problem area was Dauphin Island, where about 2,400 residences were without power and crews had to wait for high seas to calm before beginning work.
But along the beaches in Baldwin County, which accounts for about one-third of all tourism spending in Alabama, some beachfront restaurants and stores operated normally less than 12 hours after Isaac made landfall in Louisiana on Tuesday.
"At this point, it looks like Alabama has been spared the worst," said Jeremy King, a spokesman for Gov. Robert Bentley, who had lifted mandatory evacuation orders for low-lying coastal areas.
At Gulf State Park, a front-end loader scooped up a thin layer of sand that had been blown across the main road. Cars passed nearby shortly after daybreak, their headlights making the airborne sand appear like snow.
Coastal roads were closed throughout southern Mobile County and in a few spots in southern Baldwin County, but conditions improved as the tide receded following a mid-morning crest.
Marty Hoffman opened his convenience store despite winds whistling up to 47 mph and rain totaling more than 5 inches since Tuesday. He feared the storm would scare away families that normally spend the three-day holiday at the beach.
"I hope they come. It's our last hurrah of the summer," said Hoffman, co-owner of Waves.
Orange Beach officials said roads were open and hotels and condominiums should be fully reopened by this weekend.
"It should be a nice weekend. Normally after a hurricane, the weather is very nice," said Mayor Tony Kennon.
At Point Clear on Mobile Bay, the historic Grand Hotel came through Isaac without any damage to its buildings or huge oak trees that shade the grounds. The resort was reopening Wednesday afternoon, spokesman Bill Lang said.
Karen Conner, director of sales and marketing for the USS Alabama, the battleship museum on Mobile Bay, said she expects the Labor Day weekend won't be as busy as usual because of the storm, even though it wasn't severe in Alabama.
"We're all clumped in to the Gulf Coast," Conner said.
Gina Johnson, who lives a block off the beach road in Gulf Shores, had worries of her own. She had to wade through about 2 feet of water in her flooded yard as she left her elevated home to go buy cigarettes, but she wasn't complaining given the lack of damage to her home and belongings.
"We put everything up yesterday," she said. "So far so good."
On Dauphin Island, officials said the power outage was linked to a wayward sailboat. The craft ran aground Monday, was dislodged Tuesday by high winds and waves, and it then hit the power line serving the coastal island. Officials said it may be Thursday before power is restored.
Nearly 1,000 people weathered the hurricane in Alabama's emergency shelters, the Emergency Management Agency said.
After Alabama's coastal areas were sparred major structural damage, the governor offered the state's assistance to the governors of Mississippi and Louisiana, his spokesman said.
Officials in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are still watching to see whether the heavy surf from Isaac dredges up oil left by the BP oil spill and deposits it on the beach. Alabama officials expect some tar balls to be washed up by Isaac, but assessment teams won't be able to check until after the surf subsides later in the week.
"We expect to get tar balls on the beach because we know with earlier surf events, winter storms we got tar balls on the beach from the tar mats," said Kennon, the Orange Beach mayor. "But, they're manageable. We can get them cleaned up in a relatively quick period of time."
BP spokesman Ray Melick said the company has responded quickly after severe weather in the past and would do the same with Isaac.
Associated Press writers Jessica Gresko in Mobile County and Phillip Rawls in Montgomery contributed to this report.