Hurricane Sally uprooted trees, flooded streets and cut power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses on Wednesday as it brought what the US National Hurricane Center called “historic and catastrophic” flooding to the Alabama-Florida coast.
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Sally, which made landfall early Wednesday near Gulf Shores, Alabama, as a Category 2 storm, was downgraded in the afternoon to a tropical storm as maximum sustained winds dropped to 70 miles per hour (113 kph).
The storm is believed to have killed one person in Alabama.
“We had a body wash up, we believe it was hurricane related, but we have no definitive proof of that right now,” said Trent Johnson, a police lieutenant in Orange Beach, Ala. The person was local to the area, but has not yet been publicly identified, Johnson said.
EN NW GRAB KETHEVANE V3 FROM 06H Q1
Some parts of the Gulf Coast had been inundated with more than 18 inches (46 cm) of rain over the previous 24 hours, with more precipitation expected as the storms winds slow further, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
The coastal community of Pensacola, Florida, suffered up to five feet of flooding, and travel was cut by damaged roads and bridges. More than 500,000 homes and businesses across the area were without power as the storm knocked over stately oak trees and tore power lines from poles.
Several residents along the Alabama and Florida coasts said damage from the slow-moving storm caught them off guard.
“Normally it goes away. But with this one it was first the anxiety of it coming and then when it finally came, it didnt move,” said Preity Patel, 41, who has resided in a downtown Pensacola apartment for two years. “It was just constant rain and wind.”
A section of the Pensacola Bay Bridge, known also as the “Three Mile Bridge,” is missing a “significant section,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said at a press conference.
The storm was moving at a slow 5 mph pace toward the Alabama-Florida border but was predicted to pick up speed, the NHC said.
“The rain is what stands out with this one: Its unreal,” said Cavin Hollyhand, 50, who left his home on a barrier island and took shelter in Mobile, Alabama, where he viewed the damage on Wednesday. Some isolated areas could see up to 35 inches (89 cm) of rain before Sally is done, the NHC said.
Upon landfall at Gulf Shores, Sallys winds were clocked at 105 mph. Along the coast, piers were ripped away by the storm surge and winds.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey told residents not to go outside to check on damage unless necessary, and to stay away from live power lines and fallen trees.
“We had strong winds for a long period of time,” said 38-year-old Grant Saltz as he took a break from clearing debris outside his Mobile restaurant. “Instead of a few hours we got it for 12 hours.”
In Pensacola, where wind gusts were clocked at 77 mph at one point, images on social media showed major floods. One witness reported hailstorms in the city as well and the NHC warned of possible tornados.
Pensacola, Florida These two pictures were taken from the same building. One was before Hurricane Sally, the other during the height of the storm. Wind gusts topped out at around 90 mph here this morning (9/16/20). Photo cred: Aaron Fields. #FLwx #Sally pic.twitter.com/WfFk14ZHiu
— Amber Wheeler (@AmberWheelerWX) September 16, 2020
Pensacola police warned of high winds and urged residents not to drive around looking at damage.
“We see lots of lookers out,” the police department wrote on Twitter. “Its slowing our progress down. Please stay at home!”
Electrical crews from other states have arrived in Pensacola to aid in restoration efforts.
“This year weve just got hurricane after hurricane,” said Matt Lane, 23, a member of a crew from New Hampshire Electric Coop, who arrived late Tuesday directly from Hurricane Laura recovery efforts in Texas.