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Hurricane Sally destroys the Florida Panhandle with a deluge of rain

PENSACOLA, Florida – Massive National Guard trucks sailed through subdivisions engulfed by flooded waters. Hundreds of people were rescued from flooded homes and cars. And on a street on the outskirts, a family of four was found clinging to a tree as the murky brown rainwater triggered by Hurricane Sally Wednesday morning swirled beneath.

Through the streets of downtown Pensacola, water gushed like a river, and flooding at one point reached more than five meters. It ended with a portion of an important bridge crossing the bay. And more than 400 people were rescued from across Escambia County, which includes the city of Pensacola.

“We didn’t expect it,” said Peter McDavid, owner of a reception venue next to a Pensacola marina, where a large blue sailboat had crashed against the deck railings and where water had invaded from of flooded streets and a broken skylight.

Sally, a stubborn storm that suffered two miles per hour over the Gulf of Mexico for two days, crashed against the shores of Florida and Alabama with unexpected fury. The storm had been unpredictable from the start, evolving repeatedly in recent days along its path and quite projected. As it approached land on Wednesday morning, it became a Category 2 hurricane and suddenly swerved eastward, attacking the Florida coast.

“I think a lot of us were hitting ourselves early this morning,” said David Morgan, the sheriff of Escambia County, citing forecasts that sparked the storm that hit Alabama and Mississippi. Instead, it triggered “devastating effects” in the area, and flooding was expected to reach record levels.

Sally had defined herself largely by her slow pace, camping in the waters of the Gulf, made warmer than usual by climate change and crawling tediously toward the shore. As forecasts feared, the storm maintained its abrupt speed as it crossed the land, dropping residents as 105 mph winds tore roofs from houses, smashed trees, flooded streets and left hundreds of thousands without electricity. .

The Pensacola area had already seen more than two meters of rain due to this week’s storm before it hit land, and meteorologists said it could fall up to 35 centimeters in coastal communities. Officials said the region also faced the threat of flooding from rivers, especially the Perdido and Escambia rivers.

Sally landed around 5 a.m., Central Time, over Gulf Shores, Alabama, and was reduced to a tropical depression after passing through the Florida Panhandle and returning to Alabama. But his deluge was not expected to stop any time soon; the heavy rainstorm spread to western Georgia from Wednesday evening and continued to crawl northeast at about 9 mph.

The parking lots in both states looked shallow and hurricane winds continued to hit homes and businesses.

In Pensacola, the largest city near the Florida and Alabama state line, conditions made it difficult to immediately assess the extent of the devastation, although it quickly became apparent that Sally was among the most destructive storms to go. affect that part of the coast. in recent years. Mayor Tony Kennon, of Orange Beach, Alabama, said one person had died due to the storm.

Janice P. Gilley, Exchange County Administrator, said during a briefing that local officials have called for state and federal help. “We asked for more assets,” he said. “We asked for more staff.”

As the sun began to look through the clouds, videos from residents and local media showed images of houses that had been torn by howling winds, boats ripped from their moorings and power lines down in many towns and cities. According to the National Weather Service, a casino barge near Coden, Alabama, was triggered due to strong wind and storms and crashed into a dock.

Hurricane Sally attacked the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Ivan, a Category 3 storm that threw nearly 16 inches of rain at Pensacola and was one of the most powerful to hit the region.

“Man, just unloaded,” said Tim Booth, a semi-retired trucker from Sally while biting a fir tree that fell out of his home in Loxley, a city in Alabama, next to Mobile Bay. “I felt like Ivan.”

He, along with his wife and 19-year-old son, had spent an anguished night at home, a single-width trailer as it was hit by much stronger winds than they had expected. “We really started to feel it after midnight,” he said.

The city of Mobile, which had virtually closed while waiting for the storm, saw strong gusts of wind that caused the Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel, a large building, to sway and tremble as if it were an earthquake. Outside, the remains of damaged buildings cluttered the walkways, including large panels that had come out of a parking cantilever.

On Interstate 65, a number of drivers drove across the high two-section bridge over the Mobile River. Throughout the area, the roads had become almost impassable due to branches and debris. On Alabama State Route 59, which heads south to Gulf Shores, the high streets had cut lanes in a northerly direction, leaving motorists driving on the other side of the road.

Officials urged area residents to stay home if they were safe there, describing a volatile and dangerous landscape throughout the region. Officials said the storm had destroyed a portion of the three-mile bridge across Pensacola Bay.

Elsewhere on the Gulf Coast, there was some relief. For days, the storm had disturbed a wide expanse of coastline as residents watched their projected path change considerably with each forecast.

The slow speed and whim of the storm have been attributed in part to climate change which, according to researchers, has made hurricanes wetter. As the atmosphere heats up it may contain more moisture. But there is evidence that they can also slow them down, allowing storms to bombard areas affected by heavy rains and winds for longer, as happened with Hurricane Harvey in 2017. That storm stalled in the southeast Texas and generated up to 60 inches of rain over five days.

In 1979, Tropical Storm Claudette set a record when 43 inches of rain fell in Alvin, Texas, in a single day.

This hurricane season has been one of the most active recorded; with 20 so-called storms, the National Hurricane Center quickly runs out of letters of the alphabet for later storms.

On Monday, before Tropical Depression Rene dissolved, there were five simultaneous named storms in the Atlantic, something that has not happened since 1971, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

On the Florida coast, Sally’s hard turn to the east worried Joe Hernandez so much that he stayed awake all night as the storm erupted through his suburban Cantonment neighborhood on the outskirts of Pensacola.

The wind shattered his back fence and his shed and water rose to his waist in some of the nearby streets, he said. The streets were also transformed into Venetian canals, only these were flanked by wide green suburban lawns and beautiful brick houses with basketball targets and garages for two cars.

It might have been surreal for a newcomer, but not for Mr. Hernandez. The area, he said, had seen its share of flooding during its 18 years here, sometimes after hurricanes, but also sometimes after a normal storm.

Soon the Florida National Guard roamed in large-wheeled trucks with open backs, searching for people who had been trapped. Some of them started looking for people to rescue as early as 7 a.m., when the wind was still blowing. They brought to safety people who could no longer drive through its streets. They rescued motorists stranded in the deeply misleading floods.

In the afternoon, Mr. Hernandez and his wife, Tammy Hurd, 53, were rescued from their blue SUV.

They had driven to a nearby house to check on a 70-year-old couple. They then made the decision to try to make their way down Bristol Park Road. Soon, his SUV was submerged in floodwater to its headlights.

A National Guard truck found them and they were soon roaring through the water safely.

It was not a life-or-death ransom; rather as a rescue from a deep nuisance. Neighbors stopped on their sidewalks or on the high ground of the lawn and watched.

The truck made a big wake, pushing some of the water towards the houses and infuriating some who watched as the waves rolled towards them. A man came out of his garage, making a railing for the guards.

“Loosen up!” he screamed.

Soon Mr. Hernandez and Mrs. Hurd returned home. Mr. Hernandez, a veteran of the Air Force, effectively thanked the guards. He was grateful to be safe and out of the storm. Still, he worried about the SUV he left stranded in the middle of Bristol Park Road.

“It’s the only car I have,” he said. “I don’t know what I’ll do.”

Richard Fausset reported from Pensacola, Cantonment, Florida, Mobile, Alabama, and Loxley, Alabama, Rick Rojas of Atlanta, i Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs of New York. Daniel Victor provided reports from London, Will Wright of Jersey City, New Jersey, i Johnny Diaz of New York.

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