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Claudette weakens to a tropical depression but still drenches Gulf Coast and the Southeast

Claudette pounded the shores of southern Mobile County, Alabama, on June 19 morning. (WALA)

(CNN) — What was Tropical Storm Claudette has now become a tropical depression but was still dumping heavy rain as it pushed into the Southeast Saturday evening, threatening to add to the flooding it already has left in parts of four states.

It also appears to have spawned a tornado that littered a southern Alabama community with debris, and more twisters are possible, forecasters say.

After moving ashore in southeastern Louisiana early Saturday, the center of the storm was heading into western Alabama in the evening, according to the National Hurricane Center.

As of 8 p.m. ET, the storm was centered about 75 miles west of Montgomery, Alabama, with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph, according to the NHC.

The system is forecast to move inland across parts of the southeast US through Sunday night and over the western Atlantic Ocean on Monday, the center said.

The storm could yield dangerous flash flooding across coastal Mississippi and Alabama, as well as the western Florida Panhandle, through Saturday, the NHC said.

A total of 5-15 inches of rain could fall those areas by storm’s end, the NHC said. By Saturday afternoon, some areas of Mississippi had received more than 11 inches of rain, and parts of southeastern Louisiana had received more than 8 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

In the Louisiana city of Slidell, one of Ashley James’ children woke her up early Saturday, screaming that their home was being flooded, she told CNN.

Video that James shared shows most of the rooms covered with inches of water. She and her four children left safely.

“There’s about 6 inches still in the garage, and maybe about 2 to 3 standing (in) parts of the house,” James said. “It’s destroyed wood everywhere, and it’s frustrating.”

Other images, including video from CNN affiliate WVUE, showed flooding in homes, streets and yards in Slidell, a city across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans. More than 9 inches of rain had accumulated there by Saturday afternoon, the weather service said.

High winds also were battering parts of the region. Tropical-storm-force winds — at least 39 mph — extended up to 205 miles southeast of the center early Saturday afternoon, the NHC said.

Whether this system was a tropical storm when it made landfall wasn’t clear. The NHC simultaneously announced around 4 a.m. CT Saturday that a gulf storm previously called a “potential tropical cyclone” had become Claudette, and also that it was centered inland near Houma, Louisiana.

Flash flooding also was reported in parts of Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle as of early Saturday afternoon, the weather service said.

Residents in the region have prepared for the storm over the last couple of days. In New Orleans, Cara McCarthy was moving her Toyota Prius to higher ground.

“We just never know what’s gonna happen. So (we’re) just hoping for the best. We’ve moved out cars, but we can’t move our house,” McCarthy told CNN affiliate WDSU. “We’ve got our sandbags ready. We’ve got our tarp ready and we’re just … hoping for the best.”

Tornado reported in southern Alabama

As Claudette raged as a tropical storm Saturday morning, a tornado hit the southern Alabama community of East Brewton, the Brewton Fire Department said, according to the National Weather Service.

Pictures from resident Alicia Jossey showed debris from downed trees and other materials strewn across East Brewton, a community of about 2,900 residents near the Florida state line in Escambia County.

Three people in Escambia County were injured by the tornado, according to the county’s Emergency Management Agency. The tornado also damaged several homes, and law enforcement closed US Highway 29 in East Brewton because of power lines in the roadway.

Jossey told CNN affiliate WPMI she had just enough time to get her 17-year-old son and their pets to hunker down in the middle of the house. When the storm passed and they emerged, she was “in shock.”

“I have peoples’ hats on my front porch and I have frames from people’s houses and little things like caulk from somebody working on something,” she said. “I have half of someone’s car seat in my backyard.”

Further tornadoes are possible Saturday across southeast Alabama, the western Florida Panhandle and southwest Georgia, the National Hurricane Center said.

Storm has weakened but may restrengthen near East Coast

Claudette weakened into a tropical depression later Saturday.

“However, Claudette is forecast to become a tropical storm again when it moves across the Carolinas Sunday night or early Monday,” after some of its outer bands reach over the Atlantic, the NHC said Saturday afternoon.

Earlier forecasts predicted the storm could re-form as a tropical storm after its center exited the coastal Carolinas and churned over the Atlantic Ocean, perhaps by early Tuesday.

Widespread 3 to 8 inches of rainfall is expected from central Alabama, central and northern Georgia, and parts of the Carolinas this weekend — and flooding could result, the NHC said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the location of the storm’s center as of 4 a.m. CT Saturday. It was about 45 miles southwest of New Orleans.

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