After Sally: Rescue & recovery efforts underway, rivers being watched
Cars and a motorcycle are underwater as water floods a street, Wednesday, September 16, 2020, in Pensacola, Florida.(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Rivers swollen by Hurricane Sally's rains threatened more misery for some residents of the Florida Panhandle and south Alabama on Thursday, even as the storm's remnants were forecast to dump as much as a foot of rain and spread the threat of flooding to Georgia and the Carolinas.
Coastal residents, meanwhile, looked to begin the recovery from a storm that turned streets into rivers, ripped roofs off buildings, knocked out power to hundreds of thousands and killed at least one person.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis warned residents and visitors in flooded areas that they would need to remain vigilant as water from the hurricane subsides because heavy rains to the north were expected to cause flooding in Panhandle rivers in the coming days.
“So this is kind of the initial salvo, but there is going to be more that you’re going to have to contend with,” DeSantis said at a Wednesday news conference in Tallahassee.
At least one death was blamed on the hurricane. Orange Beach, Alabama, Mayor Tony Kennon told The Associated Press one person in the popular vacation spot died and another was missing as a result of the storm. He said he could not immediately release details.
Sally blew ashore near Gulf Shores, Alabama, Wednesday morning as a major hurricane with 105 mph (165 kph) winds. It moved slowly, exacerbating the effect of heavy rains. More than 2 feet (61 centimetres) fell near Naval Air Station Pensacola, and nearly 3 feet (1 meter) of water covered streets in downtown Pensacola, the National Weather Service reported.
Some Pensacola streets looked like rivers with whitecaps at times. The waters swamped parked cars before receding.
A replica of Christopher Columbus’ ship the Nina was missing from where it was docked at the Pensacola waterfront, police said. The ship was later seen run aground in downtown Pensacola, Pensacola News Journal reported.
The storm was a nerve-racking experience for University of West Florida student Brooke Shelter. She was wide awake Wednesday morning as strong winds and rainfall battered her home, marking her first experience with a hurricane. “The damage around my home is pretty minor, for which I am thankful for,” Shelter said. “However, it is so sad seeing how flooded downtown is.”
Sally weakened to a tropical depression late Wednesday and picked up speed. The National Hurricane Center said the system was moving through southeast Alabama, would cross over central Georgia on Thursday and reach South Carolina on Thursday night. Flash flooding and some river flooding was possible in each state.
The forecasts called for 4 inches (10 centimetres) to 8 inches (29 centimetres) of rain in southeast Alabama and central Georgia by Thursday night, with up to 1 foot (30 centimetres) in some spots, posing a threat of significant flash flooding and “minor to moderate” river floods.
In South Carolina, as much as 10 inches (25 centimetres) of rain was possible; in North Carolina, up to 8 inches. Some flash flooding and river flooding was a possibility in those states, the weather service said.
Kennon said the damage in Orange Beach was worse than that from Hurricane Ivan, which hit 16 years to the day earlier. In a Facebook briefing for city residents, Kennon said distribution points would be established Thursday for water, ice and tarps.
“It was an unbelievably freaky right turn of a storm that none of us ever expected,” Kennon said of Sally, which once appeared to have New Orleans in its sights.
Well over a half-million homes and businesses were without electricity in Alabama and Florida, according to the poweroutages.us website. Many faced extended time without power. “We don't want to sugar coat this; we're in it for the long haul,” one utility posted on social media.
At least eight waterways in south Alabama and the Florida Panhandle were expected to hit major flood stage by Thursday. Some of the crests could break records, submerge bridges and flood some homes, the National Weather Service warned. Included in the warnings were the Styx and Fish rivers, Murder Creek and Big Escambia Creek. In Florida, major crests were expected on the Perdido, Blackwater, Shoal and Yellow rivers, forecasters said.
Brewton, Alabama, a city of about 5,200, can expect moderate to major flooding, said meteorologist Steve Miller of the National Weather Service office in Mobile. Silverhill, an Alabama town of about 1,200, was threatened by the Fish River, which had crested, and Seminole, an Alabama village on the Florida state line, by the still rising Styx River, Miller said.
As a hurricane, Sally tore loose a barge-mounted construction crane, which then smashed into the new Three Mile Bridge over Pensacola Bay, causing a section of the year-old span to collapse, authorities said. The storm also ripped away a large section of a fishing pier at Alabama’s Gulf State Park on the very day a ribbon-cutting had been scheduled following a $2.4 million renovation.
The hurricane centre was tracking two other Atlantic storms: Hurricane Teddy, with a forecast track that could put it over Bermuda by Monday; and Tropical Storm Vicky, expected to dissipate in the Atlantic in the coming days.