Category 1 Hurricane Sally is pummeling southern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle after it crossed land Wednesday (Sept. 16) morning, prompting water rescues, sapping power, dropping trees and threatening catastrophic flooding as it crawls at an agonizingly slow pace, according to CNN.
High-water rescues were underway Wednesday morning as homes flooded and trees toppled onto roofs in Gulf Shores, Ala., city spokesman Grant Brown said.
Sally made landfall as a Category 2 storm near Gulf Shores around 4:45 a.m. (CT) with sustained winds of 105 mph. By 8 a.m. (CT) it was downgraded, 20 miles from Gulf Shores, with winds at 90 mph.
With Sally’s slow pace — generally 3 mph — some areas already have collected more than 15 inches of rain and could receive up to 35 inches by storm’s end.
Floodwaters have turned streets into rivers in Pensacola, Florida, images from the Associated Press show. Pieces of hazardous debris “have become too numerous to list,” police there warned.
“Nothing is going to go away anytime soon,” National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham told CNN. “The winds, the torrential rainfall, the slow movement and the storm surge — this is a dangerous situation all around.”
On Florida’s Pensacola Beach, sounds of transformers exploding and metal scraping along the ground — debris from torn roofs — could be heard early Wednesday.
Power has been knocked out for more than 500,000 customers in Alabama and Florida alone, utility tracker PowerOutage.us reported.
The National Weather Service office in Mobile declared a flash flood emergency for “severe threat to human life & catastrophic damage from a flash flood.”
“This is a LIFE-THREATENING SITUATION. SEEK HIGHER GROUND NOW!!” the NWS Mobile office tweeted.
Rainfall totals of 10 to 35 inches are possible across parts of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, from Mobile Bay to Tallahassee, forecasters say.
The storm’s slow forward speed is expected to continue through Wednesday as it turns to the north and then northeast, taking with it strong winds and more flooding potential.