1st fatality reported in Alabama near site of Sally's landfall
Two casino barges broke loose in Bayou La Batre, Alabama, on Sept. 15, due to high winds and strong currents from Hurricane Sally.
Following a painfully slow crawl toward the Gulf Coast, Sally roared ashore near Gulf Shores, Alabama, at 4:45 a.m. CDT Wednesday as a Category 2 hurricane, bringing life-threatening impacts such as hurricane-force winds and inundating storm surge. The forward speed of Sally slowed to just 3 mph through Tuesday night and Wednesday morning ahead of landfall.
Although the worst of the storm is over with Sally weakening as it moves farther inland, it will have long-lasting impacts across the region as the scope of the damage and flooding is just starting to come into focus.
At least one fatality has been reported in Orange Beach, Alabama, less than 10 miles away from where Sally made landfall. The identity of the person has not been released, but it appears to be water-related, WKRG said. In addition, Orange Beach mayor Tony Kennon said that one person is also missing.
It is estimated that 1 million people were affected by the storm from around Mobile, Alabama, through Pensacola, Florida, with some communities measuring more than 2 feet of rain. Gulf Shores remains under a city-wide curfew until further notice to keep the roadways clear.
"There are entire communities that we're going to have to evacuate," Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan told The Associated Press. "It's going to be a tremendous operation over the next several days."
AccuWeather National Weather Reporter Jonathan Petramala spent Tuesday night in Orange Beach, Alabama, tracking Sally until the storm's eventual landfall. The city, located only a few miles away from Gulf Shores, saw at least 100 people rescued from flooded homes and taken to shelters, according to WGN America reporter Brian Entin.
"What a marathon this was," Petramala said, describing the storm that had intensified, strengthening into a Category 2 hurricane, just before landfall.
In the dark of the night, Petramala had caught footage of the wind from Sally sweep a pier from its base, the planks of wood either tearing apart or carried off by the storm.
As the rain ended and residents stepped outside to assess the damage, some were surprised by what they found.
“$100,000 boats stacked on top of each other in the middle of the road” Orange Beach, Alabama, resident Mark O’Connor told Petramala on Wednesday. “I was standing on the porch when the pontoon boat starting coming across and if it had not been for the road it would have ended up in our front door.”
Over 500,000 people across southern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle were without power on Thursday morning with some outages likely to last for days or perhaps weeks.
Sally became the first hurricane to make landfall in Alabama since Ivan in 2004, a historic hurricane that also made landfall near Gulf Shores, located about 54 miles south of Mobile.
Even before landfall, Sally battered the Gulf Coast with large waves and rough surf as the storm lurked off of the coast. Although the center of the hurricane was over water, the slow movement of the storm meant that areas along the coast from Florida to eastern Louisiana were being bombarded by unrelenting waves and storm surge generated by the storm. Boats and cars suffered from Sally’s wrath long before landfall, as the storm surge submerged them.
The barrage of waves and wind continued through Wednesday morning with photos posted on the Orange Beach, Alabama, Facebook page showing stray boats, inundated streets and debris littering the area.
Pensacola resident John Switzer woke up Wednesday to find a barge loosened by powerful winds and charging storm surge had not only destroyed his dock in Pensacola Bay but had also been deposited into his flooded backyard.
"Quite a few barges have broken loose," Switzer told Storyful. "And one with concrete columns is parked on my yard 20 feet away from my structure. Took out my dock."
Gulf Shores recorded some of the strongest winds with gusts of up to 123 mph. The winds and waves were so powerful that it destroyed part of the Gulf State Park Pier in Gulf Shores, a pier that had just undergone a $2.4 million restoration project, according to FOX 10.
To the north of Gulf Shores, a truck had been found flipped over on an elevated stretch of Interstate 10 eastbound near Mobile on Wednesday.
Sally's top wind gusts as of Wednesday afternoon.
A similar wind gust was clocked a little over 20 miles to the west of Gulf Shores, in Fort Morgan, Alabama, where winds howled at speeds of 121 mph.
Intense winds lashed out at nearby areas like Pensacola, Florida, which recorded a top wind gust of 92 mph and saw extensive damage to the Pensacola Bay Bridge. Also referred to as the Three-Mile Bridge, the structure stretches between downtown Pensacola and Gulf Breeze.
Morgan confirmed Wednesday that the storm had collapsed a section of the bridge after a photo of the damage to the bridge started circulating over social media. At the portion of the bridge closer to Gulf Breeze, Florida, a construction crane was found collapsed across the bridge the same day.
Petramala was on the scene of a bridge closure at Pensacola Beach the day before landfall, where a barge crashed into it as conditions started to deteriorate on Tuesday. A video shot by Petramala showed police cars blocking vehicles from advancing onto the bridge.
According to a local media outlet, strong winds pushed the barge into the bridge. A video posted on Twitter showed the dramatic scene as tropical storm-force winds lashed the barge and shoved it into the bridge.
Two casino barges also broke loose in Bayou La Batre, Alabama, on Tuesday amid gusty winds and rough waters. No one was hurt, but Mayor Terry Downey reported one of the vessels swung around and damaged two fishing piers. Downey said tugboats came to the rescue to help secure the boats again.
As damage reports piled up, stories of residents helping neighbors in need began to emerge. One such report came out of Walton County, Florida, after a man called for help as water flooded the first story of his home and his oxygen was running out.
The county sheriff’s office responded and a Good Samaritan stepped in to help rescue the man with the help of a kayak to get him to safety.
A Good Samaritan helps officials rescue a man in Walton County, Florida, after he called for help due to his oxygen running low. The three used a kayak to get the man to safety. (Photo/Walton County Sheriff)
As Gulf Coast residents reel from the impacts of Sally's intense winds, there's one hazard that will continue to linger.
"While the wind has been a problem and we're going to see the damage, it's going to be the flooding that will be the biggest impact and the deadliest impact as we move forward," AccuWeather Chief Broadcast Meteorologist Bernie Rayno said.
Areas of the Florida Panhandle and southern Alabama experienced what the National Weather Service described as "catastrophic and life-threatening" flooding through the morning hours on Wednesday after Sally sent a deluge of rain over some areas.
Bellview, Florida, a census-designated place in Escambia County, Florida, had recorded up to 30 inches of rainfall from the storm.
Evacuations had been issued for areas near the coast and low-lying areas that are prone to flooding due to the anticipated flooding from the rain and storm surge from Sally.
Forecasters continue to warn of the "historic" flooding potential from Sally, similar to other potent hurricanes in the recent past, including Harvey in 2017 and Florence in 2018. Consequences of a stalled hurricane just offshore are waves and rain that batter the immediate coast for an extended period with long-duration storm surge flooding.
A meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Birmingham, Alabama, John De Block, described the storm's approach ahead of landfall as “drifting to the north at the speed of a child in a candy shop.”
Emergency declarations for Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana were approved by President Donald Trump ahead of Hurricane Sally on Tuesday. The President stated on Twitter that he and his team "are closely monitoring extremely dangerous Hurricane Sally." He added that people in these states should be ready and listen to state and local officials.
Impacts from Sally were felt as early as Monday, even when pockets of blue sky were still visible overhead. The coast of Alabama was pounded by high surf causing a few vehicles to sink in the sand on Dauphin Island, Alabama. “Unfortunately, there is a third vehicle behind the car on the left in this photo,” Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier said on Facebook.
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