Hurricane Katia now Cat. 3; TS Lee leaves 1 dead

Updated 5:19 a.m. Eastern

MIAMI - Hurricane Katia roared to a monstrous Category 4 storm for a number of hours late Monday as it moved across the Atlantic Ocean.

By Tuesday morning, Katia's maximum sustained winds had decreased to 125 mph, and the storm was downgraded to a Category 3 hurricane - still deemd a "major" hurricane. Some strength fluctuations are expected before the storm slowly weakens.

Hurricane specialist Todd Kimberlain says it's looking less likely that Katia will hit land, but wind from the storm could still affect the U.S. East Coast as it moves north. Forecast maps show it veering to the northeast, away from the U.S. in the coming week.

Meanwhile, the slow-moving remnants of Tropical Storm Lee dumped a torrent of rain across the South on Monday and whipped up twisters that damaged dozens of Georgia homes as the storm system pushed farther inland. One death was reported, and at least one person was injured.

In Mississippi, a man was swept away by floodwaters after trying to cross a swollen creek, the first death caused by flooding or winds from Lee. The system was sweeping through Alabama and pushing into Georgia, where the suspected tornadoes sent trees falling into homes and injured at least one person.

Damage to homes ranged from ripped-off siding and shingles to holes punched through roofs by falling trees. In all, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency said about 100 homes were damaged in Cherokee County. One man was taken to the hospital with superficial injuries after being hit by flying debris.

In Woodstock, Mickey Swims and his wife hid in their home's basement during the storm.

"I heard it and saw the trees go around and around," Swims said. "I knew when I heard it that if it touched down, it was going to be bad."

Swims owns the Dixie Speedway, where he estimated the storm caused $500,000 worth of damage. That includes about 2,000 feet of chain-link fence uprooted from its concrete base, walls blown out of a bathroom and concession stands and tractor-trailer trucks turned into mangled messes.

In other parts of the state, six families were evacuated from a Catoosa County apartment building because of flooding, while slick roads caused an 18-car pileup in Monroe County, said agency spokeswoman Lisa Janak. No one was injured in those cases.

"Tropical Storm Lee really made a mess in Georgia," she said.

In areas of Louisiana and Mississippi that took the brunt of the storm over the weekend, at least 16,000 people remained without power as of Monday afternoon.

The man who died in Mississippi, 57-year-old John Howard Anderson Jr., had been in a car with two other people trying to cross a rain-swollen creek that naturally flows over the entrance to JP Coleman State Park. Anderson had been staying on a house boat at the park's marina. Tishomingo County Coroner Mack Wilemon said he was told Anderson was outside of the car and had been thrown a rope to be rescued, but he couldn't hold on.

Jonathan Weeks, a 48-year-old salesman from Plantersville who owns a vacation home near the park, said he helped pull two people to shore and tried to save Anderson.

Weeks said a strong storm had come through the area and he and his wife went out looking around when they saw a van crossing the creek. He happened to have a rope in the tool box of his truck.

"It all happened so fast. They were in there trying to get out and panicking. The power was out so everything was dark," Weeks recalled in a phone interview Monday.

"We threw them a rope and tied it to a tree," Weeks said. "We got two of them to the bank and were trying to help the driver. We had him on the rope and were trying to pull him in, but I don't think he was able to hold on."

Art Gaines, a 69-year-old retiree who lives near the park, said he and his wife heard their dogs barking at the commotion.

"When we looked out the window we saw flashlights and then the next thing we know there was a van going down the creek, which is a misnomer, because once the water gets rolling through there it's like a small river, not a creek," Gaines said.

Gaines called 911 and went outside to help. By then, two people had been pulled from the water and others were searching for Anderson.

Familiar dance: Gulf Coast prepares to bail out homes

In Texas, a body boarder drowned after being pulled out to sea by heavy surf churned up by Lee, and the Coast Guard was searching for a boy swept away by rough surf off the Alabama coast.

Lee came ashore over the weekend in Louisiana, dumping up to a foot of rain in parts of New Orleans and other areas. Despite some street flooding, officials said New Orleans' 24-pump flood control system was doing its job. On Monday, heavy rain continued to fall in Mississippi and make its way across Alabama and into Tennessee and Georgia.

"Right now it's a big rainmaker, said Marc McAllister, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jackson.

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser told "The Early Show" that water is still coming over the levee there. "Highway 23 is completely underwater, cut our parish in half," he said.

Nungesser said it was not as bad as Hurricane Katrina, but said that with water pounding on the levee for three days, "it was inevitable the levee would be overtopped. " He said about 5,000 people were stranded in South Plaquemine.

Water rises in New Orleans again
Lee lurches ashore in South

Elsewhere, the heavy rain made for a dud of a Labor Day holiday as Gulf Coast beaches mostly cleared of tourists. On Monday morning, the main road on Alabama's Dauphin Island was flooded and covered with sand, jellyfish and foam washed in by Lee. Customers trickled in to the town's largest store on what should have been a busy day.

"It's been kind of boring," said Tabitha Miller, a clerk at Ship and Shore. "It's not killing us though since we're the only gig in town."

Rain already had started falling in Tennessee, though no campers had been evacuated from Great Smoky Mountain National Park, officials said.

As of Monday afternoon, overflowing creeks and rivers were already causing problems ahead of warnings that things could get worse as rain falls over higher elevations in the Appalachian Mountains.

All the rain caused a creek to swell near an apartment complex in Jackson, prompting officials to move 45 families to a storm shelter. In Louisiana's Livingston Parish, about 200 families were evacuated because of flooding.

In Louisiana's coastal Plaquemines Parish, officials considered cutting a hole in one of two levees protecting the area to drain water from a flooded road, spokesman Kurt Fromherz said. The parish sits on a sliver of land dotted with oil and gas companies, and its main highway was under water.

The rain had stopped out in the Gulf of Mexico, allowing oil and gas production platforms and rigs to look for damage and get operations kick started again on Monday. Federal regulators said evacuations had shut in about 61 percent of oil production and 46 percent of natural gas production in the Gulf.

The storm was forecast to move up the Tennessee River Valley on Tuesday, and forecasters have warned people to be on the lookout for tornadoes. Several already had been reported, including one that damaged five homes in Harrison County.

Jessica Talley, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Birmingham, Ala., office, said the tornado threat would last in that state into the evening. Any tornadoes aren't expected to be nearly as powerful or long-lasting as those that killed hundreds across the Southeast in April. But there is concern that trees in saturated soil could be more easily pushed over onto homes.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Greg Flynn said flooding was reported in Mississippi's six southernmost counties, with some homes flooded with an inch or two of water in coastal Jackson County. Shelters were opened in Jackson and Hancock counties, but few people were using them.

Rupert Lacy, the emergency management director in coastal Harrison County, said at least five homes were damaged there by a suspected tornado. There were no immediate reports of injuries from the wind.

In Lafitte, La., workers and residents were busy sandbagging around homes to stop water pushed up from Barataria Bay by tides and wind.

The small town, which runs along the edge of the Intracoastal Canal and the bay, was under a mandatory evacuation order, but many people ignored it.

"A few more left this morning," Jefferson Parish President John Young said. "The sheriff had to get a few people out using his high-water vehicles."

Marc McAllister, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jackson, said Lee could drop 4 to 8 inches of rain as it pushes across Alabama on Tuesday and Wednesday and into Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina. The storm is expected to produce less rain the farther north it gets.

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