PENSACOLA (CBSMiami/AP – High winds, surging floodwaters, and driving rain from Sally wreaked havoc across the western Florida Panhandle and eastern Alabama.
A slow moving Sally came ashore early Wednesday morning near the Florida-Alabama line with 105 mph winds and rain measured in feet, not inches, swamping homes and trapping people in high water as it crept inland for what could be a long, slow and disastrous drenching.
Moving at just 3 mph, or about as fast as a person can walk, the storm made landfall at 4:45 a.m. close to Gulf Shores, Alabama, about 30 miles from Pensacola, Florida. It accelerated to a light jog as it battered the Pensacola and Mobile, Alabama, metropolitan areas encompassing nearly 1 million people.
Sally cast boats onto land or sank them at the dock, flattened palm trees, peeled away roofs, blew down signs, and knocked out power to more than 540,000 homes and businesses. A replica of Christopher Columbus’ ship the Nina that had been docked at the Pensacola waterfront was missing, police said.
Sally tore loose a barge-mounted construction crane, which then smashed into the new Three Mile Bridge over Pensacola Bay, causing a section of the year-old span to collapse.
Garrett Harvey, a student at Florida Gulf Coast University, posted a picture on Twitter of it.
So.. a portion of the three mile bridge in Pensacola is missing… good grief. pic.twitter.com/yPYzyWMuiW
— Garrett Harvey (@WeatherGarrett) September 16, 2020
The storm also ripped away a large section of a fishing pier at Alabama’s Gulf State Park on the very day a ribbon-cutting had been scheduled following a $2.4 million renovation.
Sally turned some Pensacola streets into white-capped rivers early Wednesday. Sodden debris and flooded cars were left behind as the water receded.
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 of rain was recorded near Naval Air Station Pensacola, and nearly 3 feet 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.
Rescuers on the Gulf Coast used boats and high-water vehicles Thursday to reach people cut off by floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Sally, even as a second round of flooding took shape along rivers and creeks swollen by the storm’s heavy rains.
“Please, please, we’re not out of the woods even if we’ve got beautiful skies today,” said Escambia County emergency manager Eric Gilmore.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis urged Panhandle residents not to let their guard down. “You’re going to see the rivers continue to rise,” DeSantis said after an aerial tour of the Panhandle.
Most rivers fed by the storm were cresting in Alabama and the Panhandle on Thursday, although the Shoal, in Florida was still rising, said Steve Miller of the National Weather Service in Mobile, Alabama. Near Crestview, Florida, portions of Interstate 10 and U.S. Highway 90 — the two main roadways running east to west through the Panhandle — were closed because of flooding from the Shoal, the Florida Highway Patrol said.
Crews carried out at least 400 rescues in Escambia County. Rescuers focused their efforts Thursday on Innerarity Point, a narrow strip of land close to Pensacola that is home to waterfront homes and businesses. Floodwaters covered the only road out.
Richard Wittig and his family were among the scores of people hemmed in by floodwaters on an island at the tip of the point. Two generators powered his house.
“If I didn’t have a working generator, we’d be dead. Nobody can get to us,” said Wittig, 77. He said he and his son rely on oxygen machines to stay alive.
The Florida National Guard said it had deployed about 500 soldiers and airmen to help local authorities evacuate 113 people, though it did not say when and where the rescues took place.
A volunteer rescue group based on Marcos Island, Florida, known as the Marcos Patriots, received three calls for help, including from an 80-year-old woman in Gulf Shores, Alabama, whose roof had blown off.
When a rescue team arrived, “she was safe and sound with a neighbor but her house was destroyed,” said group co-founder ErinMia Milchman.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)