By Brian Dakss, Sarah Lynch Baldwin, Justin Carissimo
Updated on: September 16, 2020 / 3:06 PM
/ CBS NEWS
Hurricane Sally, which has weakened to a tropical storm, is battering the Gulf Coast at a slow pace and with massive amounts of rain – unleashing « catastrophic and life-threatening » flooding along with parts of the Florida Panhandle and southern Alabama, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The storm’s eye crossed over land near Gulf Shores, Alabama, early Wednesday as a Category 2 hurricane with sustained winds of 105 mph. As of Wednesday afternoon, the eye was about 30 miles west-northwest of Pensacola, Florida, with winds of 70 mph.
The storm is now creeping north-northeast at 5 mph, maintaining an excruciatingly slow pace, which means it could produce nearly three feet of rain in some areas and storm surges as high as seven feet. Rainfall is already being measured in feet – not inches – and tornadoes remain a possibility in Florida, Alabama and Georgia.
Several boats docked at a pier in Pensacola, Florida, have sunk as Sally moved over the Gulf Coast. Pensacola police spokesperson Mike Wood also said Wednesday he doesn’t know the whereabouts of a replica of one of the ships that made Christopher Columbus’s historic voyage.
Sally, now a tropical storm, lumbered ashore Wednesday morning near the Florida-Alabama line as Category 2 hurricane with 105 mph winds and rain measured in feet, not inches. It has swamped homes and trapped people in high water as it creeps inland for what could be a long, slow and disastrous drenching across the Deep South.
The following warnings were in effect as of 1 p.m. CT, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The hurricane center notes that a Hurricane Warning from the Mississippi/Alabama border to the Okaloosa/Walton County line has been changed to a Tropical Storm Warning, and that Storm Surge Warning from Dauphin Island, Alabama, to the Alabama/Florida border was discontinued.
Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan confirmed at a news conference Wednesday that a section of the bridge came off as the hurricane battered the city, the Associated Press reported.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said Wednesday that « many areas » along Mobile and the eastern shoreline of Mobile Bay are seeing historic flood levels.
She pleaded with people to stay home and not go on roads to check on storm damage unless absolutely necessary.
« It is imperative that we all heed warnings from our trusted weather experts and local leaders, » she said in a statement.
As #HurricaneSally continues to impact our state and slowly makes its way across inland AL, it is imperative that we all heed warnings from our trusted weather experts and local leaders. My team and I are closely monitoring the situation – full statement below. #alpolitics #alwx pic.twitter.com/5muDw1rCAB
The U.S. Coast Guard has sent helicopters flying over the Gulf Coast to check for anyone in distress as Hurricane Sally pummels the region with wind and rain.
In a statement, the agency says MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters and MH-65 Dolphin choppers were checking for trouble, but had no immediate reports of any distress calls or search-and-rescue incidents as of mid-morning Wednesday.
Photos emerging Wednesday from Pensacola, Florida, showed floodwaters reaching disturbing levels – immersing roads and entrapping vehicles.
Emergency crews plucked people from flooded homes Wednesday. In Escambia County, which includes Pensacola, more than 40 were rescued, including a family of four found in a tree, said Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan.
Morgan estimated thousands more will need to flee rising waters in the coming days. County officials urged residents to stick to text messages for contacting family and friends to keep cellphone service open for 911 calls.
« There are entire communities that we’re going to have to evacuate, » Morgan said. « It’s going to be a tremendous operation over the next several days. »
The storm collapsed a section of the Three Mile Bridge across Pensacola Bay, the sheriff said, and crews struggled to stop a barge that had broken loose from drifting into a nearby bridge that is part of Interstate 10. Officials closed I-10, which runs parallel to the Gulf Coast, in hard-hit areas of both Florida and Alabama
Authorities tweeted pictures Wednesday showing flooding in Walton County, Florida, which is several hours east of where Sally made landfall.
The images showed one car stuck in flooding and others trying to cross a treacherous swath of roadway covered in water.
This is a car stuck in the bridge over White Creek off County Highway 183 S in the valley.
Call our non-emergency line at (850)-892-8111 for assistance or dial 911 in an emergency. #HurricaneSally pic.twitter.com/Ujm3nidSdq
More than 500,000 power outages are being reported in Florida and Alabama as Sally pummels portions of the two states.
Another 60,000 outages are being reported in Mississippi and Louisiana, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks outages across the country.
Officials across the region have warned people to sty indoors due to dangerous conditions including damage to roads, flooding and downed power lines.
If you see any downed lines after the storm, don’t assume they are de-energized and maintain a safe social distance. Report any downed lines to us at 1-800-888-APCO or your local police or fire department. #SafetyFirst pic.twitter.com/LJulLvby1F
The following warnings and watches were in effect Wednesday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center.
« We have to utilize our first responders for the most critical needs, » she tweeted. « Urgent to stay indoors and stay safe to keep our first responders available for those who truly need it the most. »
Like other officials across the Gulf Coast, she urged people not to go outside to check on damage, and to stay away from live power lines and fallen trees.
Folks, please refrain from going outside to check on damage from #HurricaneSally unless you absolutely have to! Please use all caution – stay away from live power lines and fallen trees. Your first responders are working around the clock – please stay safe! #alwx #alpolitics
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany says the White House is « fully engaged » as Hurricane Sally pounds the Gulf Coast with wind and rain.
Speaking Wednesday morning on Fox News Channel’s « Fox & Friends, » McEnany said the Federal Emergency Management Agency is also fully engaged and cited President Donald Trump’s issuance of emergency declarations for the affected states.
McEnany didn’t have details on which officials the president had spoken with as of Wednesday morning but said « it’s safe to say the White House has been in active contact with all of these governors. »
Sally had already dumped as much as 18″ of rain in some areas as of early Wednesday, creating catastrophic flash flooding, the National Weather Service said.
Heavy rainfall from Hurricane Sally has already produced up to 18″ of rain, creating catastrophic flash flooding. Additional rainfall as high as 12+ » on the Gulf Coast, 4-8+ » in AL/GA, 4-6+ » in the Carolinas, and 2-5+ » in VA will spread flash flooding northeast through Friday. pic.twitter.com/EvnfaVqIfh
A curfew in Orange Beach, Alabama, has been extended until 12 p.m. Wednesday and will likely be extended again as officials get a better sense of the damage. The city told residents to shelter in place and warned of life-threatening conditions that will likely continue into Wednesday afternoon.
The city said first responders have been inundated with calls and asked everyone to « please be patient. »
« They are doing everything they can to assist, » it said in a Facebook post Wednesday morning. « They will respond as soon as conditions allow. »
Orange Beach is EXPERIENCING LIFE-THREATENING CONDITIONS AS A RESULT OF HURRICANE SALLY NEARING SHORE AS A CAT 2. THE CITY WILL BE EXTENDING THE CURFEW TO AT LEAST NOON TODAY. The curfew will likely be extended all day as the city starts to assess the damage. @NWSMobile @spann pic.twitter.com/BlFhhFGtW6
Officials along the Gulf Coast are telling residents to stay off roads due to dangerous conditions.
In Florida, Pensacola police asked people to resist the urge to drive around looking at damage Wednesday morning.
« High winds will still be here for awhile. We need the roads clear for emergency response, » they tweeted.
In Walton County, to the east, officials warned of flooding on roadways and downed trees. « NO ONE should be on the roads right now in Walton County, » the sheriff’s office tweeted. « Conditions during #HurricaneSally are very dangerous and there is widespread flooding on roadways. »
Similar warnings were issued in other areas along the coast, including Alabama’s Baldwin County, which continued to experience dangerous conditions.
Please stay off the roads! Power lines and trees are down around the City making it dangerous to be on the roads. Many roadways are flooded. This standing water could also be contaminated with wastewater, creating additional health and safety hazards. https://t.co/yAei6flO53 pic.twitter.com/WaSEPpIRbg
City officials in Orange Beach, Alabama, say they’ve received 120 calls after midnight from people whose homes were flooded by Hurricane Sally. Mayor Tony Kennon says between 50 and 60 people were rescued and are staying in makeshift shelters Wednesday morning.
Kennon also said there are people they haven’t been able to get to because of high water. But he said they’re safe in their homes and will be rescued as soon as the water recedes.
Meanwhile, U.S. Coast Guard crews based in New Orleans are prepared to make rescues if needed, as soon as the storm passes.
The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office has shared photos showing Sally’s impact on Okaloosa Island, located just west of Destin, Florida.
Photos coming in to us from our deputies and Supervisors showing some flooded areas including intersection of Highway 98 and Santa Rosa Boulevard on Okaloosa Island. ⭐️ pic.twitter.com/rKfKZhg9kG
Alabama’s Baldwin County, located between Mobile and Pensacola, is seeing major flooding and severe, widespread damage, according to the county’s emergency management agency, which called it an extremely dangerous situation.
« If you are on high ground above flooded areas, being prepared to stay where you are may be the best protection, » it tweeted.
We are receiving lots of information about the damages and debris from Hurricane Sally. DO NOT attempt to travel along the roadways! Dangerous conditions still exist. #HurricaneSally #OBA @BaldwinEMA pic.twitter.com/B8R6v5cjCP
Florida Senator Marco Rubio said early Wednesday that Sally is going to cause extensive damage, « but praying we don’t lose any lives. »
Pensacola is getting the worst of the storm surge and is seeing very serious flooding as Sally drops heavy rain, he said.
« Praying for everyone in Northwest #Florida & have already been in contact with federal officials making sure we are ready to provide any assistance needed, » he tweeted.
« CBS This Morning » lead national correspondent David Begnaud tweeted videos Wednesday morning showing Hurricane Sally’s winds and rain lashing Pensacola Beach.
« The wind is roaring as I take a first look from the balcony of our hotel, » he tweeted from the location, along Florida’s coast.
Good morning. Hurricane Sally has arrived as a strong category two. Winds 110 miles per hour. CAT 3 would be 111. The wind is roaring as I take a first look from the balcony of our hotel. pic.twitter.com/78DE7Y7zWi
Alabama Power, which provides electricity service to customers in the state, is reporting « significant damage » in the Mobile area and says 152,000 customers are without power.
More than 268,000 customers across Alabama were without power as of early Wednesday morning, according to poweroutage.us. More than 190,000 customers in Florida had no power, while Mississippi and Alabama were seeing more than 70,000 outages combined.
Significant damage in Mobile area because of Hurricane Sally. 152,000 customers without power. Stay away from downed lines and flooded areas. Next update at 11 am.
More than two feet of rain has been reported just west of Naval Air Station Pensacola, which is located along Florida’s Gulf Coast near its border with Alabama.
« We just gusted to 82mph at our office in west Mobile, » it tweeted. PLEASE CONTINUE TO HUNKER DOWN, GULF COAST. THIS IS NOT OVER!! PLEASE STAY SAFE. »
☔630am – 24.80 inches of rainfall just west of NAS Pensacola so far and it is still raining there. OVER TWENTY FOUR INCHES. Thank you to everyone providing us reports throughout #Sally. https://t.co/z6MAVewqWT
Jonathan Kegges, a meteorologist at CBS affiliate WKMG, notes that Hurricane Sally is making landfall at Gulf Shores, Alabama, which is the same spot that Hurrican Ivan came ashore on September 16, 2004. Ivan was a Category 3 storm, while Sally made landfall as a Category 2 storm.
UNREALHurricane Sally is making landfall in about the same spot as Hurricane Ivan did 16 years ago to the day. Ivan came ashore as a Cat. 3 hurricane in Gulf Shores, Al on Sept. 16 2004. #flwx #alwx pic.twitter.com/bjoUDIRrbx
The National Weather Service Mobile, Alabama office has declared a Flash Flood Emergency for parts of the Mobile and Pensacola, Florida areas:
⚠️⚠️⚠️FLASH FLOOD EMERGENCY- These warnings are issued for exceedingly rare situations when a severe threat to human life & catastrophic damage from a flash flood is happening.
Police in Pensacola said, « Flooded roadways and intersections, along with hazardous debris in roadways have become too numerous to list. Please stay off the roadways now. »
More than 350,000 homes and businesses were reported without power in Alabama, Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi as conditions deteriorated with Hurricane Sally slowly approaching.
A website tracking electricity use nationwide, poweroutage.us, reported those disruptions early Wednesday as Sally churned off the northern U.S. Gulf Coast.
In the Florida Panhandle city of Pensacola, water crept into downtown streets, forcing a utility truck to pass through the standing water.
Two large casino boats broke loose Tuesday from a dock where they were undergoing construction work in Bayou La Batre, Alabama. M.J. Bosarge, who lives near the shipyard, said at least one of the riverboats had done considerable damage to the dock.
« You really want to get them secured because with wind and rain like this, the water is constantly rising, » Bosarge said. « They could end up anywhere. There’s no telling where they could end up. »
CBS affiliate WKRG-TV said nobody was injured and tug boats were on the scene. The situation seemed under control, the station added.
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