Tropical Storm Arlene weakened as it blew ashore Saturday on the Gulf Coast, but still packed enough punch to bring sheets of rain, 20-foot waves and heavy wind to the same area that was devastated by Hurricane Ivan nine months ago.
Arlene later weakened to a tropical depression with top sustained winds of 30 mph and was centered about 75 miles south of Tuscaloosa, Ala., late Saturday. Meteorologists said flooding and as much as 6 inches of rain were possible in the path of Arlene's remnants through the Mississippi River valley to parts of Indiana and Ohio, but all hurricane and tropical storm warnings were lifted.
The first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season had threatened to strengthen to a hurricane but had sustained wind of only about 60 mph when it made landfall at about 3 p.m., just west of here.
Arlene came ashore a bit east of where Ivan hit with 120 mph wind on Sept. 16. Ivan, blamed for 29 deaths in Florida, was one of four hurricanes to batter Florida last summer.
"This is nothing like the thing we had last year," said Kris Davis, a waitress at McGuire's Irish Pub in coastal Destin.
Initial damage reports were minimal; about 11,300 homes and businesses on the Gulf Coast were without power Saturday evening. A few Panhandle bridges were closed because of wind, and some flooding was reported on Alabama's coastal highways.
There were no immediate deaths blamed on the storm Saturday, but one woman died Friday after being pulled from strong surf on Miami Beach, more than 500 miles southeast of the landfall.
Many feared that Arlene would set back the efforts to rebuild homes damaged by Ivan. Numerous buildings in the region are still under repair, with flimsy plastic for roofs on many houses.
"It looks like we're going to come out a lot better than what was first expected or forecast," said Jerry Henderson, a spokesman for the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office in Florida's Panhandle.
While groups of spectators gathered on the shore to watch the hammering surf, a few surfers hit the 20-foot waves at Gulf Shores, Ala.
Gulf Shores Police Cpl. Bill Cowan ordered a half-dozen boys and men out of the waves, threatening them with arrest. "They didn't really know you could die doing that," Cowan said.
Bob Garcia checked into a Red Cross shelter at Gulf Shores with his son, Tommy. They live in a mobile home in Summerdale, Ala., and Garcia said there was "no sense in taking chances" with the possibility of tornadoes developing.
He was one of only 13 people in the shelter Saturday morning. Shelters were also largely empty in Florida; eight were open by midday Saturday but only 212 people checked in, state officials said. On the Mississippi coast, Jackson County opened one shelter and no one showed up, civil defense director Butch Loper said.