Hurricane Sally hits southern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle prompting a flood emergency and sending half a million people in the dark

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Hurricane Sally makes landfall in the US. Picture: NOAA

Hurricane Sally, a Category 1 storm, is pummeling southern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle after it crossed land Wednesday morning, prompting water rescues, sapping power, dropping trees and leaving serious floodingas it crawls at an agonizingly slow pace.

We anticipate the evacuations could literally be in the thousands,” David Morgan, sheriff of Florida’s Escambia County which includes Pensacola, said of rescuing people in flooded neighborhoods.

Water rescues also were reported to be ongoing in Gulf Shores, Alabama, where homes flooded and trees toppled onto roofs, city spokesman Grant Brown said.

A section of Pensacola’s Three-Mile Bridge that connects to the city of Gulf Breeze is missing, thanks to the storm, Morgan said. “It’s going to be a long time, folks, … to come out of this thing,” the sheriff said.

Sally made landfall as a Category 2 storm near Gulf Shores around 4:45 a.m. CT with sustained winds of 105 mph.

It’s since weakened inland, with winds at 75 mph as of noon CT.With Sally’s slow pace — now around 5 mph — some areas already have collected more than 24 inches of rain and could receive up to 35 inches by storm’s end.

A flood emergency and a half million with no power

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 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.

The warning zone covers parts of coastal Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, including Gulf Shores and Pensacola.

Up to 2 feet of rain had already fallen over the area by late morning, with more to come. Rainfall totals of 10 to 35 inches are possible from Mobile Bay to Tallahassee, Florida, 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.

Central Alabama and central Georgia could eventually see 4 to 12 inches of rain, with significant flash flooding possible.

Parts of the Carolinas could receive 4 to 9 inches of rain by later in the week. Mandatory evacuations were ordered for much of the coast and low-lying areas from Mississippi to Florida, and shelters opened to accommodate evacuees.

People calling for help in both states

Water rescues were underway and more calls for help arriving in Alabama and Florida Wednesday morning, several local governments reported.

In Alabama’s Baldwin County between Mobile and Pensacola, people were calling 911 for help, but emergency workers couldn’t immediately respond early Wednesday because conditions were unsafe, county emergency management deputy director Jenni Guerry said.

In Florida’s Santa Rosa County east of Pensacola, emergency workers will respond only to high-water calls Wednesday morning because weather conditions are otherwise too dangerous for responders:

Hurricane Sally landed on the same spot as Alabama’s last hurricane – the Category 3 Hurricane Ivan – 16 years ago.

The floor and walls on the 16th floor of a hotel on the northern rim of Mobile Bay groaned as Sally made its way ashore.

The building shook as if in the throes an extended, low-grade earthquake, and sturdy windows seemed poised to pop out, a CNN team there said.

Sally is the fourth hurricane to make landfall in the US this year – the most by this point in a year since 2004. It also is the eighth named storm to make landfall in the US, the most by September 16 on record.

More information on CNN, Strange Sounds and Steve Quayle.

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