JACKSON, Miss. — Tropical Storm Isidore appeared to be nothing more than a messy rainstorm when it swept into Biloxi--certainly nothing like the hurricane that hit Mexico days earlier.
Casinos on Gulf of Mexico beaches had been ordered closed, but evacuations were only recommended. When Col. Danny Pepper briefed about 20 National Guard troops late Wednesday, it looked as though the briefing wasn't needed.
But 90 minutes later, the evacuation was made mandatory. Isidore had just brought an 8 1/2-foot storm surge--3 to 5 feet higher than was forecast.
Three feet of water stood in homes as guardsmen knocked on doors and waded through chest-deep water in east Biloxi.
The events early Thursday in Biloxi highlighted the fine line between necessary precaution and undue disruption in calling an evacuation.
The storm gouged a 12-foot hole in the Treasure Bay casino in Biloxi, severed its moorings and sent a 25-foot section of its docking ramp 100 yards down the beach.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove said he didn't view the Harrison County evacuation as coming too late, given that it had been recommended earlier. Neighboring Hancock County had issued a mandatory evacuation order Wednesday morning.
"We have been talking for a long time about heeding the evacuation notices, and by and large that was done in a very effective manner," Musgrove said. "For the areas that were not, the National Guard assisted us tremendously in making that evacuation possible."
Across Mississippi, about 4,400 homes or apartments were damaged, according to preliminary estimates. At least three deaths in Mississippi and Tennessee were blamed on the storm.
With mops, brooms and wheelbarrows, residents along the Gulf Coast were cleaning up Saturday in homes and yards flooded by the storm surge and as much as a foot of rain that fell Wednesday and Thursday.
"I didn't think the water would get this high. It just kept coming and coming and coming," said Susan Serpas, whose front yard in Delacroix, La., was under 4 feet of water.
Most areas hit by Isidore were drying out Saturday as the storm broke apart over the Northeast. Flooded rivers and creeks in the Midwest remained high, but water levels were expected to drop over the weekend.
In Florida's Escambia County, which includes Pensacola, 103 homes were flooded, but the damage was relatively minor, said Michael Hardin, the county's emergency management chief.
President Bush has declared about a dozen counties in Louisiana disaster areas, and Musgrove planned to request federal aid for Mississippi.