Sally is far from finished: 600,000 without power across South as flooding, rains move north

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Sally is far from finished: 600,000 without power across South as flooding, rains move north

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Hurricane Sally’s winds are battering Pensacola, Florida, and its slow pace means the rains will bring “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding.”

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PENSACOLA, Florida – Almost 600,000 homes and businesses were without power across the Deep South on Thursday as residents picked through the sodden destruction wrought by Hurricane Sally.

A day after leaving a swath  of coastal Alabama and Florida in ruin, Sally was pounding eastern Alabama and parts of Georgia with torrential rain. The storm, downgraded to a tropical depression with 30 mph winds, was far from finished.

Parts of Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia could see a foot of rain before the storm’s remnants slide into the Atlantic. And, days after the storm has passed, swollen rivers could push eight waterways in Florida and Alabama to record-high levels, authorities warned.

“This is kind of the initial salvo, but there is going to be more that you’re going to have to contend with, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said.

There’s only one name left on the 2020 hurricane list: Next up: The Greek alphabet.

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 some areas of Florida and Alabama with 2 feet of rain or more.  

In Pensacola, the biggest city in battered Escambia County, 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. 

Escambia water rescue teams saved 377 people from flooded areas as floodwaters roared like rivers through mostly deserted streets. Paramedics responded to over 200 calls. 

A few miles northwest of Pensacola, a Cantonment couple fled the floodwaters by scrambling into their home’s attic as rising water streamed into their home. Jack Hulgan, 84, and Elane Hulgan, 76, were trapped in their attic for nearly two hours. When they couldn’t reach 911, Elane took matters into her own hands.

“I had some blue spray paint, you know, out of a can? Well, I opened my front door and put ‘In Attic HELP’ right on the door,” she said. “They must have seen my note because they came.”

By the time rescue crews arrived in Faith Whitman’s neighborhood in Pace, water was about three 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.”

Sally’s damage: 16 photos that show historic floods, destruction along Gulf Coast

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Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Chip Simmons said he spent hours combing the streets of the county, looking for people with emergency needs.

“What I saw was a lot of people in distress, I saw a lot of people crying,” Simmons said. “But I saw a lot of people giving of themselves. By that I mean they were helping someone else.”

In Alabama, Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon said one person had died and another was missing. In 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 in Gulf Shores 16 years ago as a Category 3. 

Video of washout on Bob Sikes Road past Corbin Gainey in the north end of Walton County. #HurricaneSallypic.twitter.com/pEbHWPuBHZ

— Walton Co. Sheriff (@WCSOFL) September 16, 2020

In parts of Georgia, up to a foot of rain was forecast before Sally finally slides into the Atlantic sometime Friday. Widespread flash flooding and minor to moderate river flooding is likely, the National Weather Service warned. 

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.

More: Hurricane Sally hit exactly 16 years after Ivan, making landfall at same spot

Power outages leave more than 1 million people in the dark

More than 220,000 Florida power customers remained in the dark Thursday. Almost 300,000 power customers in Alabama, more than 50,000 in Louisiana and 40,000 in Georgia were also dark. In Escambia and neighboring Santa Rosa County, almost 80% of the 252,368 households were still without power Thursday. Gulf Power spokeswoman Kimberly Blair said Florida Power and Light crews were aiding the recovery effort. She said Gulf Power was committed to restoring power “as quickly as it is safe to do so.”

Contributing: Madison Arnold and Colin Warren-HicksPensacola News Journal; The Associated Press

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