GULF SHORES, Ala. (AP) — Alabama's coastal residents boarded up buildings, secured boats and evacuated the coast Monday with everything from lawn mowers to portable toilets in tow as the region prepared for a foot of rain and a four-foot storm surge from Isaac.
"Everybody knows the drill. We get busy and we hunker down," Mark Jones said at a marina in Dauphin Island.
Jones removed his 30-foot shrimp boat from the water and parked it on a trailer in a gravel lot, with the outrigger arms to the ground to stabilize it in high winds.
"We know what a storm can do," he said.
Jones worked under a sunny morning sky, with white caps in nearby Mobile Bay offering the only sign of the impeding storm. Clouds moved in and winds picked up during the day.
Gov. Robert Bentley declared a statewide emergency and ordered the evacuation of low-lying coastal areas and flood-prone areas of Mobile and Baldwin counties. He warned residents not to get complacent because of Monday's sunny weather.
"It gives us a false sense of security," he said at a news conference.
The traffic Monday on Alabama 59 out of Gulf Shores and on Interstate 65 headed north from Mobile looked like a Sunday afternoon exodus by tourists on a busy summer weekend. The only thing unusual was the trucks were pulling trailers with everything imaginable: boats, tractors, campers, lawn mowers and even portable toilets.
Hotels closed in the vacation towns of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, and hammers pounded a steady rhythm as residents covered windows with plywood. Drivers lined up at gas stations to fill their vehicles and red gas cans.
Schools in Baldwin and Mobile counties closed through Wednesday because of the evacuation order. Officials in several towns in Mobile and Baldwin counties, including Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Dauphin Island and Prichard, postponed their municipal elections from Tuesday until Sept. 11 or Sept. 25 because Isaac and the evacuation of voters.
In southern Mobile county, about 60 people stood in line outside a methadone clinic in a small strip of stores to get their doses before the clinic closed until Thursday.
Gulf Shores resident Billy Cannon was evacuating the beach with his wife, ex-wife, daughter, son and four Chihuahuas. They planned to stay about 45 minutes away in Daphne.
Cannon said he was following the governor's order, even though Alabama could end up with only heavy rain.
"I think they overreacted, but I understand where they are coming from. It's safety," he said.
Bentley said he canceled his trip to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., and ordered the evacuation to make sure residents had plenty of time to get out and the state had ample time to prepare rescue resources, including the National Guard.
"My job is to take care of the people of Alabama and that's what I'm going to do," he said.
The National Weather Service warned that the Alabama coast could get 8-12 inches of rain Tuesday and Wednesday, winds of 40-50 mph, and experience a storm surge of 6-9 feet if Isaac stays on its path toward Louisiana. Weather service meteorologist Jeff Garmon said that could cause coastal flooding, significant beach erosion, and downed trees.
"The effects of this storm extend well east of the center," he said.
State tourism director Lee Sentell said hotel rooms were available for evacuees in Montgomery, Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, but the Auburn area appeared booked up.
South Alabama farmers were keeping a close watch on Isaac, hoping that it would not cause too much damage to crops including corn, peanuts and cotton as harvest time approaches.
Alabama Farmers Federation spokeswoman Debra Davis said the corn crop is ready for harvest right now and that farmers "are hustling" to get the corn off the stalks.
Agriculture officials said much of the rain probably would be in the western counties and may not provide much relief to farmers in east Alabama, where a summer drought is still lingering.
In southwest Alabama near the Mobile County town of Grand Bay, Bert Driskell said he farms several thousand acres of peanuts, cotton, wheat, cattle and sod. He said he was worried mostly about wind damage to crops, particularly cotton, after Katrina destroyed his cotton crop in 2005.
While farmers often wish for more moisture, Driskell said they don't need excessive rain or salt water, which can kill crops and often blows in with a tropical system.
"We don't need a lot of water so close to harvest," Driskell said.