By early afternoon, Sally had weakened into a tropical storm. It was downgraded to a depression late Wednesday night with 35 mph (55 kph) sustained winds. The National Weather Service said the system was still forecast to dump 4 inches (10 centimeters) to 8 inches (29 centimeters) of rain in southeast Alabama and central Georgia by Thursday night, with up to 1 foot (30.48 centimeters) in some spots.
At least eight waterways in south Alabama and the Florida Panhandle were expected to hit their major flood levels by Thursday. Some of the crests could break records, submerge bridges and flood some homes, the National Weather Service warned.
Morgan, the Escambia County sheriff, estimated thousands would need to flee rising waters in the coming days. Escambia officials urged residents to rely on text messages for contacting family and friends to keep cellphone service open for 911 calls.
“There are entire communities that we’re going to have to evacuate,” the sheriff said. “It’s going to be a tremendous operation over the next several days.”
West of Pensacola, in Perdido Key, Florida, Joe Mirable arrived at his real estate business to find the two-story building shattered. Digging through the ruins, Mirable pointed out a binder labeled “Hurricane Action Plan.”
“I think the professionals got this one wrong,” he said before the wind blew away his hat.
More than 2 feet (61 centimeters) of rain was recorded near Naval Air Station Pensacola, and nearly 3 feet (1 meter) of water covered streets in downtown Pensacola, the National Weather Service reported.
“It’s not common that you start measuring rainfall in feet,” said forecaster David Eversole.
Sally was the second hurricane to hit the Gulf Coast in less than three weeks and the latest to blow in during one of the busiest hurricane seasons ever. Forecasters have nearly run through the alphabet of storm names with 2 1/2 months still to go. At the start of the week, Sally was one of a record-tying five storms churning simultaneously in the Atlantic basin.
Like the wildfires raging on the West Coast, the onslaught of hurricanes has focused attention on climate change, which scientists say is causing slower, rainier, more powerful and more destructive storms.
An emergency crew rescued two people on Dauphin Island, Alabama, after the hurricane ripped the roof off their home and the rest of the house began to crumble. Mayor Jeff Collier said no one was injured.
In Orange Beach, Alabama, the wind blew out the walls in one corner of a condominium building, exposing at least five floors. At least 50 people were rescued from flooded homes and taken to shelters, Mayor Tony Kennon said.
“We got a few people that we just haven’t been able to get to because the water is so high,” Kennon said. “But they are safe in their homes. As soon as the water recedes, we will rescue them.”
Sally’s crawl made it hard to predict where it would strike. Just two days before landfall, the storm was forecast to hit New Orleans — 140 miles (225 kilometers) west of where it came ashore.
So Robert Lambrisky and his husband were caught somewhat off guard when the hurricane shook their door before daybreak and forced rainwater inside their home in Sanders Beach near Pensacola.
“We had some warning, but this was just such a strange storm,” Lambrisky said. “So all of this preparing that you do, when you know the storm is coming, was something we only half did because we were convinced the storm wasn’t going to hit us.”
Sally’s effects were felt all along the northern Gulf Coast, affecting low-lying properties in Mississippi and southeastern Louisiana.
Hurricane Laura pummeled southwestern Louisiana on Aug. 27. Thousands of people were still without power from that storm, and some were still in shelters.
Meanwhile, far out in the Atlantic, Teddy became a hurricane Wednesday with winds of 100 mph (160 kph). Forecasters said it could reach Category 4 strength before closing in on Bermuda, which took a direct hit from Hurricane Paulette only days ago.
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