By Associated Press
NAVARRE BEACH, Fla. — Heavy rain, pounding surf and flash floods hit parts of the Florida Panhandle and the Alabama coast on Tuesday as Hurricane Sally lumbered toward land at a painfully slow pace, threatening as much as 30 inches of rain and dangerous, historic flooding.
The storm’s center churned offshore 65 miles south of Mobile, Alabama, as Sally crept northward toward an expected Wednesday landfall at 2 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Hurricane force winds extended 40 miles. Rain fell sideways and rain began covering roads in Pensacola, Florida, and Mobile, Alabama. A curfew was ordered in the coastal Alabama city of Gulf Shoresas auhorities warned of life-threatening conditions.
Up to a foot of rain had fallen already on the coast by Tuesday night and Sally’s lumbering pace meant there would likely be extended deluges. More than 60,000 homes and businesses also lost power in coastal Alabama and western Florida Panhandle as conditions deteriorated.
“A hurricane moving at 2 mph is stalled for all intents and purposes,” said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami. “If they aren’t moving along and they just kind of sit there, you’re going to get a ridiculous amount of rain.”
Sally strengthened a bit late Tuesday, with sustained winds reaching 85 mp. It remained dangerous even though its winds were down considerably from a fierce peak of 100 mph on Monday. The National Hurricane Center expected Sally to remain a Category 1 hurricane when it comes ashore, adding “historic life-threatening flash flooding is likely.”
By Tuesday evening, hurricane warnings stretched from east of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, to Navarre, Florida. Rainfall of up to 20 inches was forecast near the coast. There also was a threat the storm could spawn tornadoes and dump isolated rain accumulations of 30 inches in spots from the Florida Panhandle to southeast Mississippi.
Heavy rain and surf pounded the barrier island of Navarre Beach, Florida, on Tuesday and road signs wobbled in the wind. Rebecca Studstill, who lives inland, was wary of getting stuck on the island, saying police close bridges once the wind and water get too high. “Just hunkering down would probably be the best thing for folks out here,” she said.
Two large casino boats broke loose Tuesday from a dock where they were undergoing construction work in Bayou La Batre, Alabama. M.J. Bosarge, who lives near the shipyard, said at least one of the riverboats had done considerable damage to the dock.
“You really want to get them secured because with wind and rain like this, the water is constantly rising,” Bosarge said.
In Orange Beach, Alabama, towering waves crashed onshore as Crystal Smith and her young daughter, Taylor, watched before nightfall. They drove more than an hour to take in the sight.
“It’s beautiful, I love it,” Crystal Smith said amid whipping wind. “But they are high. Hardly any of the beach isn’t covered.”
Capt. Michael Thomas, an Orange Beach fishing guide, secured boats and made other last-minute preparations. He estimated up to 5 inches of rain had fallen in as many hours.
“I’m as prepared as I can be,” Thomas said.
Stacy Stewart, a hurricane center senior specialist, warned that floods could be deadly.