PENSACOLA, Fla. — Nearly 400,000 homes and businesses remained without power across the Deep South early Friday as residents picked through sodden destruction wrought by Hurricane Sally, while others fled new emergencies caused by overflowing rivers and streams.
Rescuers along the Gulf Coast used high-water vehicles Thursday to reach people cut off by flooding in the aftermath of Sally. The region braced for a delayed, second round of floods in coming days.
The storm, though no longer at hurricane status, was far from finished.
A day after leaving a swath of coastal Alabama and Florida in ruin, Sally pounded Georgia and the Carolinas with torrential rain. By late Thursday night, Sally was moving over Virginia, where it was expected to dump up to 8 inches of rain, prompting flash flood warnings and moderate river flooding, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Rising floodwaters could push eight waterways in Florida and Alabama to record-high levels in coming days, authorities warned.
“We are not quite out of the woods yet,” Eric Gilmore, emergency management chief for Escambia County, which includes Pensacola, said Thursday. “We still have flooding in two of our rivers … so the residents along those rivers, heed this warning.”
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Disaster relief:How to help Hurricane Sally victims along Gulf Coast
The storm crashed ashore early Wednesday as a Category 2 hurricane in Gulf Shores, Alabama, about 30 miles west of Pensacola. The 105-mph winds toppled trees and telephone polls and tore the roofs off some homes. The slow-moving soaker pounded areas of Florida and Alabama with 2 feet of rain or more.
Thirty inches fell in Orange Beach, Alabama, and in isolated areas of Florida, the National Weather Service said.
“While it could be much worse, it’s been mighty bad,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said Thursday.
Gov. Ron DeSantis warned that roads could be closed for days, including portions of I-10, which runs 360 miles across North Florida to Jacksonville.
“There’s going to be more flooding,” he said. “It’s not over yet.”
In Alabama, Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon said one person had died and another was missing.
Kennon noted that, in the days preceding landfall, Sally was expected to roll in much farther west.
“It was nothing but a rain nuisance in all of our minds,” Kennon said. “But what a difference 24 hours makes.”
In Pensacola, the biggest city in battered Escambia County, a barge-mounted construction crane smashed into the recently completed Three Mile Bridge, causing a section of the span over Pensacola Bay to collapse, authorities said. Repairs could take more than a month.
About 190,000 customers in Alabama were still without power early Friday, according to PowerOutage.US, plus more than 150,000 in Florida.
’IN ATTIC HELP:’ Florida couple rescued from flooded home by Jet Ski
The firetrucks and rescue vehicles kept passing her flooded house in Cantonment, Florida, even after Elaine Hulgan, 76, wrote, “IN ATTIC HELP” on the front door, so Hulgan’s 84-year-old husband resorted to his best emergency signal: an ear-splitting whistle. The noise rose above the din, and a firefighter on a Jet Ski soon rescued the couple and their two dogs off the front stoop of their brick home.
The Florida couple were trapped in their home after Hurricane Sally lumbered ashore Wednesday morning.
Now comes the tough part for Elaine and Jack Hulgan – filing insurance claims, dealing with two flooded cars, finding temporary housing and waiting to get home.
Residents of a flood-prone neighborhood north of Pensacola since 1993, the Hulgans know what to do during a big storm. They’ve been flooded twice before and forced into the attic once.
“I wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” Elaine Hulgan said.
‘Tremendous damage’ to one Alabama county from Sally
An official for an Alabama county just east of Mobile Bay said the county suffered “tremendous damage” from Hurricane Sally.
Jenni Guerry, deputy director of emergency management for Baldwin County, said Thursday at a news briefing that search crews were trying to make sure people are accounted for and taking them to safety when needed.
Trees and power lines are down throughout the county, one of Alabama’s largest with about 225,000 people. In a social media post, the county said there are many traffic lights still out, which has led to “collisions and a lot of near misses.”
Homeowners and businesses along the soggy Gulf Coast have begun cleaning up in the storm’s wake, even as the region braces for more flooding from rivers and creeks swollen by the storm’s heavy rains.
Waiting, watching the Pea River in south Alabama
Torrential rain washing out rural roads and high winds causing widespread power outages brought havoc to several south Alabama counties. Elba, a city of 4,000 people in Coffee County, received more than 10 inches of rainfall Wednesday and Thursday. The Pea River is expected to crest Saturday at 40.6 feet, according to the National Weather Service Office in Tallahassee. Flood stage is 30 feet.
The Rabbit Hole, a restaurant in downtown Elba near the river, was open for business Thursday. It wasn’t crowded.
“I guess people are staying at home,” said Penny Green, who works at the restaurant.
Pensacola, Escambia County still seeing high-water rescues
Escambia County water rescue teams saved more than 400 people as floodwaters roared like rivers through mostly deserted streets, Public Safety Director Jason Rogers said. Paramedics responded to more than 200 calls.
By the time rescue crews arrived in Faith Whitman’s neighborhood in Pace, water was 3 feet deep around her property.
“They came in a huge military-style truck,” she said. “We’re still fine and, yes, some things floated away, but it doesn’t matter. All of this was material, and that doesn’t matter.”
Residents cleared routes for first responders by firing up chainsaws to cut up downed trees that blocked roadways. Those with generators prepared food and walked it across the street to neighbors without power.
“We are still in the life safety rescue business,” Rogers said.
Flora-Bama beach bar survives storm
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 the bar’s social media. The owners posted a photo on Instagram showing no damage to the roof or walls, although the building is surrounded by water. The Flora-Bama said it would update its patrons on reopening later this week.
“It’s unreal and it’s heartbreaking,” the post says. “Not a lot of insight to how extensive the damage is but flooding is much worse than anticipated (but) Flora-Bama stills stands.”
Florida county urges evacuations as Blackwater River rises
Santa Rosa County urged residents who live on the Blackwater River to leave as soon as possible Thursday as area rivers and creeks were expected to rise through the day. Sally was still fueling downpours in parts of Alabama, which sent rainwater down the water basin to Santa Rosa County.
“Residents on Blackwater River, Coldwater Creek and Pond Creek need to make preparations and plans that include pets to move to higher ground quickly if needed,” the county said on its Facebook page. “You can always replace your stuff.”
Sally takes aim at Georgia, Carolinas
In parts of Georgia, up to a foot of rain was forecast before Sally finally slides into the Atlantic Friday. Widespread flash flooding and minor to moderate river flooding is likely, the National Weather Service warned. The metro Atlanta area saw heavy rains Thursday, some trees were down and power outages affected thousands. Some areas around the city could see 8 inches.
Robins Air Force Base closed one of its entrances and delayed the start of the workday for some employees. Sheriffs around the state reported downed trees and some highways and streets closed because of high water.
Parts of South Carolina could see up to 10 inches of rain, and parts of North Carolina and Virginia could see up to 8 inches, the weather service said. Flooding is possible as far north as Virginia through Friday.
Gulf shores saw first landfall since Ivan – and Sally may be worse
In Alabama, Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft said the damage to his city was worse than when Hurricane Ivan, one of the most destructive storms in history, made landfall 16 years ago as a Category 3. The town is closed to tourists for at least 10 days while damage is assessed and cleanup begins. Residents were urged to stay off roads unless it is an emergency because of debris and downed power lines.
“Our area has sustained significant damage with major flooding, extensive power outages, structural damage, wide-range beach erosion, fallen trees, and many roads are closed/impassable,” the tourist bureau said in a statement.
Contributing: Daniella Medina, Madison Arnold and Colin Warren-Hicks, Pensacola News Journal; Marty Roney, Kirsten Fiscus, Montgomery Advertiser; The Associated Press