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Breaking Tampa Bay, Florida and national news and weather from Tampa Bay Online and The Tampa Tribune |
Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014
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Steve Otto There was a story this week that Amtrak was considering cutting a 600-mile stretch from its Southwest Chief that runs from Chicago to Los Angeles. The move would eliminate service to a dozen or more towns in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. Amtrak might reconsider if those four states cough up $4 million a year for the next 10 years to upgrade track and services.

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It was a lovely morning for a drive.

Photographer Colin Hackley and I headed out this morning to sightsee along the east coast of Mobile Bay. We saw a quaint little bait and tackle shop along the Mobile Bay causeway rapidly slipping under the water. We continued down the causeway until we hit a river of water rushing over it. (“I have reverse, and I know how to use it,” Colin declared earlier as he apparently read a trace of dread in my otherwise confident demeanor.)

The rain was something. At times it seemed almost like one of those 1970s-era rock shows with the dry-ice fog drifting across the stage. It was that thick. And it was as if people were standing by the side of the road every 20 feet or so with five-gallon buckets of water, pelting our windshield regularly.

We saw a few downed trees and power lines, but nothing too shocking. A Fairchild cop eventually pulled up next to us and rolled down his window: “There’s a curfew. We’re enforcing it,” he said. A couple blocks down the road, a second cop gave us the blue lights. Sheesh. No respect for the First Amendment around here. We returned to the hotel, although we knew there ain’t a jail in all of Baldwin County, Ala. that could hold us.

The bad news here is rising water. Mobile Bay has overtaken the swamp as well as our parking lot. The “IVAN” buoy is long gone. And the mystery gator, boosted by the rising tide, splashed over the curb and into the parking lot a while back, to the bemusement of a couple dozen guests gathered in the lobby. The hotel manager told Colin he’s never seen the water so high.

We lost power in the hotel about 8:30 a.m., and it’s getting hot and stuffy. And the battery is dying. 

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Before The Deluge

It’s raining pretty hard just before sunrise. Obviously, I still have electricity and an internet connection. My hotel looks out over Mobile Bay, and I can see the lights of Mobile across the water. Interstate 10 over the bay is deserted; I’ve only seen three or four cars making the crossing.

I stepped out onto the balcony a few minutes ago. Steady rain, very little wind at this point. Mobile Bay is supposed to get some ungodly storm surge, like 20 feet or something. The water is already rising. Someone stuck a sea buoy into the marshy area between the parking lot and the bay with “IVAN” painted on it; I assume that may have been the high-water level when Hurricane Ivan struck here last year. The water this morning is well past that marker and lapping at the back parking lot.

I watched as a cop pulled into the lot. He (or she) fired up the car’s spotlight and did a very thorough check of the rising water and the mangroves. When we were here last month during Hurricane Dennis, I noticed a special guest of the hotel resting comfortably in the muck—an alligator. I’m guessing that cop and a few hotel employees might be wondering where that gator is going to end up.

The TV is blasting a seven-tone alert indicating that we are officially under a tornado warning. Of course, everyone here has the Weather Channel on. It’s a little strange when they break away from the studio or the live beach shots and run “Your Local Forecast” and the statistics. That soothing computerized voice-over comes on and says, “Winds southeast at 60 to 80 miles per hour.”

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Me and Brett and Flea and Andrew and Katrina

Greetings from my new summer getaway, Daphne, Ala., on the eastern edge of Mobile Bay.

Tribune photographer Colin Hackley and I arrived here about 8 p.m. after getting our marching orders this afternoon. We are in the same hotel that served as our home base for Hurricane Dennis in early July. By all indications, Dennis will be a mild breeze compared to Katrina.

The phrase “Category 5” has certainly upped the stakes. Everyone from newspaper assignment editors to the Weather Channel beach broadcasters have been ratcheting up the hysteria level. Happy to be able to contribute.

I have very fond memories of New Orleans. I was there in 1997 when my beloved Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl there. (OK, I have somewhat foggy memories of New Orleans.) I wasn’t able to get into the Superdome, but the streets of the city were alive and electric. It’s hard to picture them under water. I understand the Superdome is now a giant hurricane shelter.

I was a relative newcomer to Florida when Hurricane Andrew, the last Category 5, hit South Florida in 1992. In fact, I was at the Lollapalooza Festival in Orlando as the storm approached. The Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and Red Hot Chili Peppers fans were extremely blase about the impending disaster. Then a guy announced from the stage that I-95 south to Miami was closed. People sobered up fast when they realized that about half of the festival-goers would not be returning home that night. I gave up my hotel room and left early to get back to the Tampa area at a decent hour. I missed a huge chunk of the Chili Peppers show. Damn these hurricanes.


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Hurricane Coverage

Jerry Stockfisch of The Tampa Tribune covers Hurricane Katrina.

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