(TMU) – While Hurricane Sally has weakened to a tropical storm, it has also unleashed massive destruction on the Gulf Coast at a steady, drawn-out rate while bringing “catastrophic and life-threatening” flooding to the Florida Panhandle and southern Alabama, reports the National Hurricane Center.
A bruising storm surge and torrential rain has already demolished infrastructure, knocking down a section of the Pensacola Bay Bridge – also known as the Three-Mile Bridge – and inundating the city’s downtown in about 3 feet of rain while flooding neighborhoods, homes, and businesses across the region.
— Chris Bruin (@TWCChrisBruin) September 16, 2020
Authorities are urgently warning residents to flee however they can as high water vehicles and boats conduct rescue efforts to help people escape their flooded homes.
“We believe that this is an epic proportion flooding event,” Escambia County Public Safety Director Jason Rogers told WEAR. “There is extremely high water, moving water that is very dangerous. We don’t believe that we have yet seen the worst of the flooding.”
— City of Gulf Breeze (@GulfBreezeCity) September 16, 2020
Sally, which managed to reach the level of a Category 2 hurricane with sustained winds of 105 mph, downgrade to a tropical storm early Wednesday after it made landfall near Gulf Shores, Alabama.
However, the storm’s impact remains deadly as winds hit 70 mph as of Wednesday afternoon while the eye of the storm was roughly 30 miles west-northwest of Pensacola.
Authorities are warning about the ferocity of the storm, which is creeping north-northeast at an excruciatingly grueling pace of only 5 mph, ensuring thorough destruction across the region as it threatens to potentially produce almost three feet of rain in areas as well as seven-foot-high storm surges, ensuring floods across the region.
“We anticipate the evacuations could literally be in the thousands,” warned Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan.
Upwards of half a million homes and businesses across Southern Alabama and the Florida panhandle had lost power as of Wednesday afternoon, according to poweroutage.us.
The National Weather Service declared a flash flood emergency for “severe threat to human life & catastrophic damage from a flash flood” The warning covers sections of coastal Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, as well as Gulf Shores and Pensacola.
Emergency services have been deluged by 911 calls across Alabama and Florida all Wednesday, according to several local governments, but first-responders have struggled to rescue residents due to the treacherous conditions, according to Santa Rosa County Public Safety Director Brad Baker.
Boats across the area have been crushed or unmoored amid the raging storm, with some boats being slammed into tourist shops and restaurants along marinas. One dramatic photo shared on Instagram showed a loose boat siting in the flooded courtyard of an Orange Beach condominium building, while flooded streets are filling up with debris and downed tree limbs.
Sally’s landfall came 16 years to the day since Category 3 Hurricane Ivan slammed the same area.
Many residents, well aware of the dangers of such storms, have prepared by purchasing essential supplies and preparing their generators for bruising storm surges.
However, the intensity and trajectory of the slow-moving tropical storm is likely to have unpredictable results.