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Hurricane Danny downgraded to tropical storm

July 20, 1997

GULF SHORES, Ala. (AP) _ Hurricane Danny was downgraded to a tropical storm late Saturday after dumping nearly 30 inches of rain over Alabama’s resort coast, collapsing a railroad trestle and flooding low-lying seashore homes.

After edging across the mouth of Mobile Bay early Saturday, the hurricane was virtually parked most of the day, battering the same area without relief.

But by early evening, Danny had lost some of its circular shape and its 80-mph winds had weakened to 70 mph with some gusts to hurricane strength. It was unlikely to become a hurricane again as it continues to move inland, said Don Faulkner of the National Weather Service’s Mobile office.

``We anticipate some weakening, but we’re still getting rain and wind,″ said National Weather Service meteorologist Randy McKee in Mobile.

The threat of tornadoes sent thousands to emergency shelters or the safety of inland motels. By Saturday afternoon, the American Red Cross was providing shelter to about 2,000 people in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.

At least one death was blamed on the storm. About 20,000 homes and businesses lost power.

``The wind got to rocking the motor home so bad we got scared and came in here,″ said Carl Foster, in a shelter set up at a high school. Foster and his wife usually live in a seaside house built on pilings.

By 9 p.m. EDT, the storm had come ashore over coastal Alabama, east of Mobile Bay and 30 miles west-southwest of Pensacola, Fla. Danny was expected to weaken further as it continued drifting eastward to northeastward through the night.

With maximum sustained winds of 80 mph, Danny remained a relatively smallish hurricane until weakening, a far cry from Hurricane Frederic, which ravaged this seashore resort area in 1979.

``This is nothing compared to Frederic,″ said Pleasant Church, 65, who has lived in the area for nearly three decades. ``This is a little blip.″

Nevertheless, rainfall was extreme. In the worst hit areas of Mobile County and Dauphin Island, nearly 30 inches had fallen since early Friday.

The Mobile County Emergency Management Agency declared a state of emergency and closed all roads in the southern part of the county. Officials said they were under water.

A railroad trestle collapsed under its weight of water, said Tom Jennings with the Mobile County EMA, but rail traffic had stopped because of the storm and no one was injured.

Ground floors in some homes took water and some roads were flooded, but major routes remained passable. There were few travelers, yet some worked hard to enjoy their vacations despite the severe weather.

At the scenic Grand Hotel in nearby Point Clear, restaurant guests ate a continental breakfast as the center of the storm moved overhead Saturday morning, watching bayside pine trees whipped by high wind.

With the help of generators, Grand Hotel manager David Monroe vowed to stage a Saturday afternoon wedding in the ballroom as planned ``come hell or high water.″

On its crawl toward Alabama, the storm’s outer bands brought rain and stormy seas to the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts, threatening the Florida Panhandle as well.

A lack of prevailing winds kept Danny churning virtually in place earlier in the day, McKee said.

``There’s just nothing to push it or pull it, so it’s just meandering over the bay,″ he said.

Tropical Storm Alberto was similar in 1994 when it stopped over southern Georgia and dumped torrential rains. Stationary storms ``are not rare, but they’re not common,″ McKee said.

Some 1,600 people sought refuge Saturday in 12 shelters in Baldwin and Mobile counties, and hundreds more went inland to ride out the storm.

The lone death blamed on the advancing storm was an unidentified man whose body was found Friday near a swamped sailboat off Fort Morgan.

Most of the property damage was limited to torn roofs and falling tree limbs, but a four-story Gulf Shores condominium project under construction crashed in the strong wind.

``It looked like something you’d see on TV, like it was in slow motion,″ said Bonnie Larkin, who lives next door. ``It just buckled and went down, like a domino effect.″

Along Mobile Bay’s fashionable Eastern Shore, where bayfront estates sit beneath tall pines and trees sheathed in Spanish moss, the storm knocked dead limbs to the ground but pleasure boat marinas were reported mostly unscathed.

Patricia Shepard fled to a shelter from Gulf State Park, where she and 11 relatives had been camping out. The children thought it was all part of the adventure.

``They thought it was pretty cool, all the wind and the rain,″ Shepard said.