Hurricane Sally uprooted trees, flooded streets and cut power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses on Wednesday, causing what the United States’ National Hurricane Center (NHC) called “historic and historic flooding.” catastrophic ”on the Alabama-Florida coast.
Sally, which made landfall early Wednesday near Gulf Shores, Alabama, as a Category 2 storm, was downgraded in the afternoon to a tropical storm as maximum sustained winds fell to 113 km / h ( 70 mph).
Parts of the Gulf Coast have been inundated with more than 18 inches (46 cm) of rain in the previous 24 hours, with more precipitation expected as the storm winds slow down further, the NHC said.
Several residents along the Alabama and Florida coasts said damage from the slow storm caught them off guard.
“Normally he goes away. But with this one it was first the angst to come, then when he finally arrived he didn’t budge,” said Preity Patel, 41, who has been living in an apartment in downtown Pensacola for two years. “It was just constant rain and wind,” Patel said.
The coastal community of Pensacola, Florida has suffered up to 1.5m (five feet) of flooding and travel has been interrupted by damaged roads and bridges. More than 500,000 homes and businesses in the region were without power as the storm knocked down majestic oak trees and tore power lines from poles.
A section of the Pensacola Bay Bridge, also known as the “Three Mile Bridge,” is missing an “important section,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said at a press conference.
The storm was moving at a slow pace of 8 km / h (5 mph) towards the Alabama-Florida border, but it was expected to pick up speed, the NHC said.
“The rain is what comes out of this one: it’s unreal,” said Cavin Hollyhand, 50, who left his home on a barrier island and took refuge in Mobile, Ala., Where he saw the damage on Wednesday. Some isolated areas could see up to 89 cm (35 inches) of rain before Sally is over, the NHC said.
Upon landing at Gulf Shores, Sally’s winds were timed at 169 km / h (105 mph). Along the coast, jetties were blown away by the storm surge and winds.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey told residents not to go outside to check for damage unless necessary, and to stay away from live power lines and fallen trees.
“We’ve had strong winds for a long time,” said Grant Saltz, 38, as he paused to clean up debris outside his Mobile restaurant. “Instead of a few hours, we got it for 12 hours.”
In Pensacola, where wind gusts were recorded at 124 km / h (77 mph) at one point, images on social media showed major flooding. A witness also reported hailstorms in the city and the NHC warned of possible tornadoes.
Pensacola police warned of the high winds and urged residents not to drive while looking at the damage.
“We are seeing a lot of ‘spectators’ coming out,” the police department wrote on Twitter. “It slows down our progress. Please stay home!”
Electrical crews from other states have arrived in Pensacola to help with the restoration efforts.
“This year we just had a hurricane after a hurricane,” said Matt Lane, 23, a crew member of the New Hampshire Electric Coop, who arrived Tuesday night directly from the hurricane recovery efforts. Laura in Texas.
Sally is the 18th named storm in the Atlantic this year and the eighth hurricane-force tropical storm to hit the United States. There are currently three other named storms in the Atlantic, highlighting one of the most active Atlantic hurricane seasons on record.
“We only have one name left,” said Jim Foerster, chief meteorologist at DTN, an energy, agriculture and weather data provider, referring to the procedure for naming storms and the prospect of running out of letters.
“It’s going to happen here soon, Wilfred, and then we’ll be in the Greek alphabet.”
Hurricanes have increased in intensity and destructiveness since the 1980s as the climate warmed, according to researchers from the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Climate change is also a factor in the increasing frequency of record-breaking wildfires in the western United States, scientists say.
Sally’s damage is expected to be $ 2-3 billion, said Chuck Watson of Enki Research, which tracks tropical storms and models the cost of their damage. That estimate could increase if the heaviest rains occur on earth, Watson said.
As the storm moved east and inland, ports on the western Gulf Coast were reopened to travel and energy companies began to send crews back to offshore oil rigs. .
Sally has shut down more than a quarter of offshore oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico in the United States. Two coastal oil refiners have halted or slowed operations, adding to existing disruptions from Hurricane Laura last month and losses in demand related to the pandemic.