US Gulf Coast braces for impact as Alberto approaches
ST PETERSBURG, Florida (AP):
Beaches in Florida were largely empty ahead of Memorial Day as a slowly intensifying storm carrying brisk winds and heavy rain approached the US Gulf Coast on yesterday.
The storm disrupted plans from Pensacola in the Panhandle to Miami Beach on Florida's southeastern edge. Lifeguards posted red flags along the white sands of Pensacola Beach, where swimming and wading are banned due to high surf and dangerous conditions.
Subtropical Storm Alberto - the first named storm of the 2018 hurricane season - prompted Florida, Alabama and Mississippi to launch emergency preparations Saturday. Rough conditions were expected to roil the seas off the eastern and northern Gulf Coast region through Tuesday.
"These swells are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions," the National Hurricane Center in Miami said in a statement.
In Miami, organisers called off the sea portion of the Miami Beach Air & Sea Show yesterday because of heavy rain and rough waters. And in the Tampa Bay area on the central Gulf Coast, cities offered sandbags for homeowners worried about floods.
Live video from webcams posted in Clearwater and Destin showed half-empty beaches, and whitecaps roiled the normally placid Gulf waters.
Gusty showers were to begin lashing parts of Florida yesterday, and authorities were warning of the possibility of flash flooding.
The hurricane centre said that a tropical storm warning was in effect from Bonita Beach, Florida, to the Mississippi-Alabama border.
In Gulf Shores, Alabama, webcams showed beaches beginning to fill up as the storm's track shifted slightly east away from the region, but red flags on the beach warned beachgoers to stay out of the rough water. Grant Brown, the city's public information officer, said they had already finished a number of preparations, such as clearing culverts, to prepare for big rains, but yesterday had turned into a "really nice day".
With conditions expected to worsen overnight, officials are encouraging people planning to check out Monday to give themselves extra time.
Under overcast skies and occasional drizzle, several Gulfport, Mississippi, residents lined up to fill 10- and 20-pound (5- and 9-kilogram) bags with sand they will use to block any encroaching floodwater expected as a result of Alberto.
Tommy Whitlock said sandbagging has become a usual event in his life since he lives next to a creek.
"I'm doing this because every time we have a hard rain, it floods at my house," Whitlock said. "We get water from other neighbourhoods, and water can get up to a foot deep in some places."
Alberto - the first named storm of the 2018 hurricane season, which officially starts June 1 - is expected to strengthen until it reaches the northern Gulf Coast, likely tonight.