Water-logged Biloxi waiting on staggered Lee

Tropical Storm Lee, which has dumped a foot of rain on the Biloxi area and caused thousands of holiday visitors to cancel hotel reservations, is on hiatus for the moment, stalled just south of Louisiana and causing intermittent showers and isolated street flooding.

So far, the biggest victim has been the tourism industry, which had expected brisk business, but a tropical storm warning and tornado watch remain in effect.

“I’d like to say we’ve seen the worst we’re going to see, but it’s too early to say that,” said Sgt. Milton Houseman, Biloxi’s emergency manager. “The storm is just not moving right now. Otherwise, everything has been just about as predicted – a significant rain event through the weekend — except on the rivers, we are going to see flooding, which will present some issues for those in low-lying areas.”

Biloxi has received about 12 inches of rain, which so far has led to minimal road closures – low-lying areas such as north of the Cedar Lake bridge and at the Popp’s Ferry causeway that typically flood – and state crews were expected to begin removing sand from U.S. 90. Residents are asked to refrain from driving.

No power interruptions or flooded homes were reported by mid-afternoon, Houseman said. However, The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for all major rivers in Harrison County.

The Tchoutacabouffa River is expected to crest at 1 a.m. Monday morning, at 14.5 feet, or six and a half feet above flood level. The Biloxi River is forecast to crest on Sunday at 7 p.m., at 17 feet, 12 feet above its flood stage, and the Wolf River should crest Monday at 7 p.m., at 10.5 feet, two feet above it flood level.

The tourism industry, meantime, began seeing the promise of an 90 percent occupancy rate wash away on Friday around noon, when cancellations began rolling in as what was Tropical Depression 13 was upgraded to Tropical Storm Lee. Now, leaders are hoping to see about 60 percent of the rooms filled, if the rain relents.

“The casino resorts experienced some cancellations, but those that already had guests are faring better because folks had things to do once they were here and inside,” said Linda G. Hornsby, director of the Mississippi Hotel & Lodging Association, “but the smaller, non-casino hotels are going to be hardest hit. Not only did their occupancy rates drop significantly because of the cancellations, they’ve also dropped rates to help attract guests.”

Meantime, the rest of the country will be able to see that Biloxi and the Gulf Coast are water-logged but open for business when HBO telecasts an IBF welterweight title fight this evening from the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino.

News and notes

The latest: To see live radar, satellite images, forecasts and advisories, as reported on the Biloxi National Weather Service page, click here.

Storm center: To visit the city’s online Storm & Flood Preparedness section, click here.

Visitors Center: The Biloxi Visitors Center, which closed Friday in anticipation of the storm, will re-open its doors on Tuesday morning, according to Community Development Director Jerry Creel.