Hurricane Sally bears down on Gulf Coast
NAVARRE BEACH, Fla. — Heavy rain, pounding surf and flash floods hit parts of the Florida Panhandle and the Alabama coast on Tuesday as Hurricane Sally lumbered toward land at a painfully slow pace, threatening as much as 30 inches of rain and dangerous, historic flooding.
The storm’s center churned offshore 65 miles southsoutheast of Mobile, Ala., as Sally crept northnortheast toward an expected Wednesday landfall at 2 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Hurricane force winds extended 40 miles. Rain fell sideways and began covering roads in Pensacola, Fla., and Mobile. A curfew was ordered in the coastal Alabama city of Gulf Shores as authorities warned of lifethreatening conditions. More than 60,000 power customers were without electricity, according to poweroutage.us.
Up to a foot of rain had fallen already on the coast by Tuesday night, and Sally’s lumbering pace meant there would likely be extended deluges.
“A hurricane moving at 2 mph is stalled for all intents and purposes,” said Brian Mcnoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami. “If they aren’t moving along and they just kind of sit there, you’re going to get a ridiculous amount of rain.”
Sally strengthened a bit late Tuesday, with sustained winds reaching 85 mph. The National Hurricane Center expected Sally to remain a Category 1 hurricane when it comes ashore, adding that “historic lifethreatening flash flooding is likely.”
By Tuesday evening, hurricane warnings stretched from coastal Mississippi to the Florida Panhandle. There also was a threat the storm could spawn tornadoes.
Heavy rain and surf pounded the barrier island of Navarre Beach, Fla., on Tuesday and road signs wobbled in the wind. Rebecca Studstill, who lives inland, was wary of getting stuck on the island, saying police close bridges once the wind and water get too high. “Just hunkering down would probably be the best thing for folks out here,” she said.
Two large casino boats broke loose Tuesday from a dock where they were undergoing construction work in Bayou La Batre, Ala. M.J. Bosarge, who lives near the shipyard, said at least one of the riverboats had done considerable damage to the dock.
Stacy Stewart, a hurricane center senior specialist, warned that floods could be deadly.
“This is going to be historic flooding along with the historic rainfall,” Stewart said. “If people live near rivers, small streams and creeks, they need to evacuate and go somewhere else.”
Waves churned up by Hurricane Sally’s 80 mph winds crash near a pier in Gulf Shores, Ala.