(Updates with storm being downgraded to tropical depression, quotes from Biloxi residents, spreading power outages, evacuation-related death, other details)
BILOXI, Miss., Oct 8 (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Nate rapidly weakened to become a tropical depression over Alabama on Sunday, although the fast-moving former hurricane left roads and buildings flooded in Mississippi after coming ashore there.
Nate's maximum sustained winds dropped to 35 miles (55 km) per hour as it moved northeast into Alabama, prompting the National Hurricane Center to end its tropical storm warnings for the region on Sunday morning. Only a few hours earlier, it had been blowing at 70 mph but appeared to lack the devastating punch of its recent predecessors.
The fourth major storm to strike the United States in less than two months, Nate killed at least 30 people in Central America before entering the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and bearing down on the U.S. South. It has also shut down most oil and gas production in the Gulf.
Nate follows Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, which have devastated areas of the Caribbean and southern United States in the last two months.
The storm system's center will move inland over Mississippi and across the Deep South, Tennessee Valley and Central Appalachian Mountains through Monday, the National Hurricane Center said. Heavy rainfall and storm surge flooding remained a danger across the region, and the center said Florida's Panhandle and parts of Alabama and Georgia might feel tropical-storm-force wind gusts, the center warned.
Nate made its first U.S. landfall on Saturday evening near the mouth of the Mississippi river and then made a second one early on Sunday near Biloxi, Mississippi, whose 46,000 residents were warned that the highest storm surge could reach 11 to 12 feet (3.4 to 3.7 meters).
Flood waters swept over streets in communities across Alabama and Mississippi, including over Highway 90 and to oceanside casinos in Biloxi, according to reports on social media.
Jeff Pickich, a 46-year-old wine salesman from D'Iberville, Mississippi, was counting his blessings. Heavy winds left only minor damage, blowing down part of a fence on his rental property in Biloxi.
"I'm just glad," he said, digging fresh holes for fence posts. "I was afraid of the water. The water is Mother Nature. You can't stop it."
Water flowed through Ursula Staten's yard in Biloxi, pushing over part of her fence and scattering debris, but did not breach her house.
"I have a mess," the retired massage therapist said. "If we had got Irma, I would have lost everything."
On Saturday, states of emergency were declared in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, as well as in more than two dozen Florida counties. Florida Governor Rick Scott warned of tornadoes springing up in the Pandhandle region.
In Alabama, Governor Kay Ivey urged residents in areas facing heavy winds and storm surges to take precautions.
About 47,000 customers were without power in Mississippi, while more than 1,000 people had arrived at shelters, the state Emergency Management Agency said.
Utility Alabama Power said some 82,000 customers were without electricity.
Rainfall of 3 to 6 inches (7.6 cm to 15.2 cm), with a maximum of 10 inches, were expected east of the Mississippi River from the central Gulf Coast into the Deep South, in the eastern Tennessee Valley, and southern Appalachian mountains, the NHC said.
Rainfall in the Ohio Valley and into the central Appalachians could be 2 to 5 inches, with a maximum of 7 inches.
NEW ORLEANS THREAT DOWNGRADED
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu lifted a curfew on Saturday evening that was originally scheduled to last until Sunday morning. He said in a statement on social media however, that there was still a serious threat of storm surge outside levee areas.
Bernice Barthelemy, a 70-year-old Louisiana resident, died from cardiac arrest overnight after telling Reuters on Saturday that she did not mind having to evacuate, Plaquemines Parish President Amos Cormier said on Sunday. He attributed her death to the stress of the move.
Major shipping ports across the central U.S. Gulf Coast were closed to inbound and outbound traffic on Saturday, as Nate intensified.
The storm curtailed 92 percent of daily oil production and 77 percent of daily natural gas output in the Gulf of Mexico, more than three times the amount affected by Harvey.
Workers were evacuated from 301 platforms and 13 rigs as of Saturday, said the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
The storm doused Central America with heavy rains on Thursday, killing at least 16 people in Nicaragua, 10 in Costa Rica, two in Honduras and two in El Salvador. (Reporting by Rod Nickel in Biloxi and Jessica Resnick-Ault in New Orleans; Additional reporting by Chris Kenning, Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Oswaldo Rivas in Managua, Vanessa Johnston in Biloxi, Mississippi, Erwin Seba and Gary McWilliams in Houston, and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Greg Mahlich and Lisa Von Ahn)