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Tornadoes follow in Georges' wake

HURRICANE GEORGES, which had lashed the Gulf coast of the United States in the early hours of Monday, was downgraded to a tropical storm yesterday as its swirling winds dropped below 50mph.

But the storm system lingered over southern Alabama, bringing as much as 30 inches of rain to counties south of the state capital, Montgomery, and the Florida Panhandle, and a rash of tornadoes.

Residents were advised to remain indoors; schools, and businesses remained closed, and the thousands of people who had moved inland under the hurricane evacuation order were instructed to wait before returning home.

Extensive flooding cut even main roads and many secondary roads were submerged. Tornado warnings flashed on to television screens by the hour.

In the event of people being caught outside with a tornado bearing down, the advice was "as a last resort, lie on the floor, or flat in a ditch, and cover your head If you're in a car, don't think you can outrun it; take cover immediately."

In the coastal cities of Mobile and Biloxi, flooding caused by the storm- surge had subsided, leaving behind trails of wreckage, including industrial containers toppled on their sidesand trees washed up by the seas. Returning townspeople were warned of the risk of snakes and insects.

Flood warnings remained in force, with the new risk coming from rivers swollen by 48 hours of rain, equivalent to six months' normal rainfall for the area.

Forecasters expressed the fear that Georges could regenerate itself as a hurricane if it reached the Atlantic ocean without losing much more strength. Gusts of up to 70mph were being felt in the Montgomery area.

Across the Gulf coast region more than 680,000 people were without power yesterday, with little hope of supplies being restored before today at the earliest.

Airports remained closed, and bus and train services, suspended since Sunday, were expected to resume gradually in coming days.

The areas worst affected by Hurricane Georges, from Puerto Rico in the east to the Florida Keys to the Gulf coast, have now all been declared federal disaster areas by President Bill Clinton, allowing them to claim central assistance.

In contrast to the Caribbean, where the hurricane caused more than 300 deaths, only four died in the US.