Part of a bridge collapsed in Pensacola as 30 inches of rain and storm surge turned streets into white-capped rivers Wednesday after Hurricane Sally lurched ashore the Gulf Coast.
Though downgraded to a tropical storm by Wednesday afternoon, Sally’s strong winds battered Alabama and Florida as the center moved over the Panhandle. In Pensacola, Florida, a section of the Pensacola Bay Bridge collapsed, and downtown was largely underwater.
The hurricane killed at least one person in Orange Beach, Alabama, located in the state’s eastern Gulf Coast between Mobile and Pensacola. Mayor Tony Kennon told The Associated Press that another person was missing but couldn’t release additional details.
Flooding as the slow storm dumped intense rains has proven to be Sally’s most serious danger: “Historic and catastrophic flooding, including widespread moderate to major river flooding, is unfolding,” forecasters say.
Photos and video from coastal areas showed trees downed, debris and boats thrown about and streets flooded. Around 9 a.m. local time, a water level station in Pensacola reported inundation around 5.5 feet above sea level, the National Hurricane Center said.
Flash flooding emergencies were in effect and rescue efforts underway for parts of southeastern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle as the storm could dump up to 35 inches of rain in isolated pockets.
Sally, which made landfall at 4:45 a.m. with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph near Gulf Shores, Alabama, was downgraded to a tropical depression late Wednesday night with 35 mph winds.
Some other major developments:
Sally is forecast to head inland Wednesday night across southeastern Alabama before reaching Georgia on Thursday and the Carolinas on Friday.
Around 10 to 20 inches of rain could be dumped on parts of Alabama and Florida, with isolated pockets getting up to 35 inches.
Sally is the eighth named storm to make landfall in the continental U.S. this year — the most through Sept. 16 in recorded history.
More than 550,000 homes and businesses are without power in Alabama, Florida and Louisiana, according to the utility tracker poweroutage.us.
Here’s a look at the latest news with Sally:
Thousands of Florida households remain without power
Thousands of Florida customers remained without power Wednesday night following Hurricane Sally’s arrival in the Gulf Coast.
As of 6 p.m., roughly 92% of all Gulf Power customers in Escambia County were without power, with a total of 148,616 confirmed outages. In Santa Rosa County, about 58,712 Gulf Power customers — or roughly 65% of households — were also in the dark.
National Guard headed to Pensacola area
Authorities in Pensacola say 200 National Guard members will be arriving Thursday in response to Hurricane Sally, which hit the Gulf Coast with wind and drenching rains that have caused flooding.
At a Wednesday afternoon news conference, Escambia County authorities announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew for the next three days. They also said there have been 377 rescues so far from water-stricken areas.
Heartbreak and devastation: Pensacola residents begin to venture out
There was little standing water along Nine Mile Road, but debris littered the area and surrounding residential roads. Signs above businesses were twisted and shredded like sheets of paper, and along thoroughfares like Chemstrand and Roberts roads lines of cars took turns navigating around downed trees and dangling powerlines.
In Cantonment, residents of the Bristol Park area saw a heartbreaking repeat of flooding that devastated the area in 2014. The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, National Guard and Escambia County Fire Rescue spent much of the morning using high-water vehicles to rescue people in homes in the area.
Nearby, emergency responders blocked off access to Highway 297-A near Corral Drive and Ashbury Lane. A small lake had formed just outside at the nearby Ashbury Hills neighborhood, forcing commuters hoping to check on their loved ones and properties to find another way home.
Massive barges break loose in Pensacola, wash up near downtown
Barges – large flat-bottom vessels used for carrying tons of freight along waterways – broke loose from moorings and drifted into the city’s downtown district, leaving quite a spectacle.
Several of the black monolith-like crafts drifted from the Three Mile Bridge as the finishing touches on the nearly $400 million project were being completed. Florida Sen. Doug Broxson said the damage would take more than a month to repair.
Five of the barges have washed up near downtown — four just west of the Missing Children’s Memorial and one in front of the Gulf Power building. A sixth was last reported drifting toward the Escambia Bay and the Interstate 10 bridge when it grounded about a half-mile away from another collision. A seventh barge wedged itself against the Garcon Point Bridge.
Citizens posted pictures on social media of the wayward barges, including one that was close to a residential backyard and another near a public golf course.
Some of the barges are owned by Skanska USA. The contractor has not answered queries concerning how many barges broke loose and where they’ve ended up.
Sally brought third-highest storm surge on record to Pensacola
Sally’s powerful winds and very slow motion allowed Sally to pile up a large and damaging storm surge near the Florida/Alabama border, to the right of where the eye made landfall, according to meteorologist Jeff Masters, who writes for Yale Climate Connections.
A peak storm tide of 5.6 feet occurred Wednesday morning at Pensacola, Florida – its third-highest water level on record, he said. Only Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 recorded higher levels in Pensacola.
Section of Alabama’s Gulf State Park Pier destroyed
As Sally thrashed ashore near Gulf Shores, Alabama, the pier at Gulf State Park suffered significant damage, with the storm destroying large sections of the structure.
Montgomery resident Joe Whatley said friends sent photos from the scene showing much damage near the beach, with debris and a section of Gulf State Park Pier missing. Several boats were washed ashore.
“This whole earth and seas all belong to God,” Whatley said. “He just lets us share them as long as we need to. If we’ve got to rebuild, we just rebuild and go on.”
Mobile home park residents band together: ‘At least everybody is accounted for’
Brandon Anderson, a resident of the Oak Lodge Mobile Home Park west of Pensacola, brought out chainsaws Wednesday morning to help take a part massive trees blocking the entrance to the park. Soon, he had more than a dozen neighbors helping the effort.
“Thankfully they just came out and and started joining us,” Anderson said.
During the worst of the storm, Anderson said he saw flashes of light, what he thought to be power lines snapping. “I felt my house shaking. There’s a lot of light blasts, it’s a little scary,” he said.
Kenneth McElory said he woke up at 4 a.m. to screaming winds and green flashes of light around his house. The next thing he knew, a massive tree fell into his living room. Another tree fell on his car before he could escape.
McElroy said that besides feeling “homelesss,” he was optimistic that things would get better — someday, if not today.
“You can’t get down on yourself, it will make it worse,” he said. “At least everybody is accounted for.”
Part of Pensacola bridge collapsed
Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan confirmed a section of Three Mile Bridge is missing, the largest reported damage to date from Hurricane Sally. Santa Rosa County Emergency Management tweeted a photo showing the missing section of bridge.
Images indicate a crane fell on the bridge and knocked away a section of the road way. The brand new Three Mile Bridge, or Pensacola Bay Bridge, connects the city to Gulf Breeze.
The Florida Department of Transportation said it has been unable to assess any possible damage to the bridge due to ongoing high winds.
On Tuesday, a construction barge broke loose, struck the fishing pier and lodged itself under the Three Mile Bridge, forcing the closure of the bridge.
Downtown Pensacola largely underwater
Much of downtown Pensacola was underwater Wednesday morning, with floodwaters turning streets into white-capped rivers and downed trees bookending Palafox Street. Downtown was mostly empty, save for police officers and a few brave onlookers.
Nick Zangari, owner of New York Nick’s Badlands bar, was sitting in the doorway of his dark, empty bar on Palafox looking out into the street. Zangari has been at the bar since Monday, saying he wanted to keep an eye on his building. But he didn’t expect things to get as bad as they did overnight Tuesday.
A few blocks down, on Jefferson Street, floodwaters were submerging cars around the Holiday Inn Express and Pensacola Little Theatre. The floodwaters looked more like the Gulf of Mexico as winds tossed the water around.
People could be seen standing on the porch of the hotel, trapped and looking out over the water that used to be a parking lot.
Cajun Navy gives first look at damage to Alabama’s Orange Beach
The United Cajun Navy has boots on the ground in Orange Beach and is surveying the damage so far from the Category 2 storm.
The nonprofit organization, dedicated to providing relief efforts and equipping rescue teams to areas affected by natural disasters, posted a video on Facebook that shows storm surge and heavy flooding on streets as well as an overturned boat on the side of the road next to a refrigerator.
Alabama: Rescues underway, heavy damage to homes, businesses
Rescue crews are working to pull people from their homes damaged by Hurricane Sally and in the midst of massive flooding, Senior Forecaster David Eversole with the National Weather Service in Mobile said.
“There’s two flash flood emergencies currently in effect for coastal Baldwin over to Fort Walton Beach,” he said.
Eversole said he’s gotten reports of damage to several condos in the Gulf Shores area, as well as damage to the Surf Shop and Pink Pony Pub. Debris in Orange Beach sloshed against some condos as a boat floated its way between some of the buildings.
“We know people are being rescued and we know there is severe property damage,” he said.
Hurricane Sally has eerie similarities to Ivan – 16 years later
Sally’s path and landfall is eerily similar to Hurricane Ivan’s, which made landfall on the same day – Sept. 16 – in 2004, 16 years ago, in nearly the exact same place that Sally is projected to land. Ivan was a stronger Category 3 storm and devastated the area.
Flora-Bama beach bar survives Hurricane Sally
Not even wet and windy Hurricane Sally was able to blow away the Flora-Bama. The “most famous beach bar in the country” is still standing, according to a photo and caption the United Cajun Navy posted Wednesday morning at 5:23 a.m. CT. The volunteer rescue group is currently hosting relief efforts in Escambia County.
The photo shows no visible damage to its roof or its walls, but shows rising water surrounding the landmark bar on the border of Alabama and Florida.
Rescue workers called upon amid flooding in Okaloosa County, Florida
Okaloosa County rescue workers were called upon early Wednesday as Sally created flooding that required emergency evacuations in some areas.
“We are receiving reports of flooded roadways and homes and are actively engaged in water rescues and evacuations,” Okaloosa Public Safety Director Patrick Maddox said in a 4 a.m. update to county officials.
County spokesman Christopher Saul said 543 people in the south end of Okaloosa County were “in need of evacuation” as of about 5:30 a.m. Rescue workers had succeeded in helping 79 people evacuate from the Baker area, he said.
Hurricane Sally dumps 30 inches of rain on Pensacola
The National Weather Service in Mobile reported a trained spotter estimated 30 inches of rain in Northwest Pensacola. NAS Pensacola recorded 24.8 inches of rain and wind gusts up to 92 miles per hour.
Earlier Wednesday, the Weather Service issued a “rare” flash flood emergency warning.
“It’s when we have a flash flood that is posing a significant risk to lives and property,” said Dave Eversole, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mobile, Alabama. “That means there’s people out there literally pulling people out of homes and rescuing people out of cars. It’s right along with a tornado emergency, it’s one of our two most serious warnings.”
Interstate 10, eastbound and westbound, at the Escambia Bay Bridge is also closed due to high sustained winds.
Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore in Pensacola
Jim Cantore, the famed Weather Channel weatherman, was in Pensacola early Wednesday to track the storm. Cantore is notorious for reporting from some of the worst weather situations in the country.
He tweeted video of powerful winds tearing through the city Wednesday morning and shots from the Weather Channel showed him being battered by the heavy rain.
Sally is 8th named storm to make landfall this year
Sally is the eighth named storm to make landfall in the continental U.S. this year — the most through Sept. 16 in recorded history, surpassing the seven storms of 1916, according to Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist and meteorologist at Colorado State University.
The record for most continental U.S. landfalls in a single Atlantic season is nine, also set in 1916. The center of Sally’s eye made landfall around 4:45 a.m. local time near near Gulf Shores, Alabama.
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