'Huge rainmaker': Hurricane Sally threatens historic floods

Waves crash near a pier, at Gulf State Park, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Gulf Shores, Ala. Hurricane Sally is crawling toward the northern Gulf Coast at just 2 mph, a pace that's enabling the storm to gather huge amounts of water to eventually dump on land. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbrt)

Credit: Gerald Herbrt

Credit: Gerald Herbrt

Heavy rain and high winds from Hurricane Sally's outer storm bands are pounding the Florida and Alabama coasts

NAVARRE BEACH, Fla. (AP) — 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 (76 centimeters) of rain and dangerous, historic flooding.

The storm's center churned offshore 65 miles (105 kilometers) south-southeast of Mobile, Alabama, as Sally crept north-northeast toward an expected Wednesday landfall at 2 mph (3 kph), according to the National Hurricane Center. The forecast map showed the center likely coming ashore in Alabama, near the Florida line.

Hurricane force winds extended 40 miles (65 kilometers). Rain fell sideways and began covering roads in Pensacola, Florida, and Mobile. More than 80,000 power customers were without electricity, according to poweroutage.us .

Up to a foot (more than 30 centimeters) of rain had fallen already on the coast by Tuesday night and Sally's lumbering pace meant there would likely be extended deluges.

“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 late Tuesday, with sustained winds reaching 90 mph (145 kph). Winds had reached 100 mph (161 kph) 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 night, hurricane warnings stretched from coastal Mississippi to the Florida Panhandle. There also was a threat the storm could spawn tornadoes and dump isolated rain accumulations of 30 inches (76 centimeters) 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 (13 centimeters) 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.

“This is going to be historic flooding along with the historic rainfall,” Stewart said. “If people live near rivers, small streams and creeks, they need to evacuate and go somewhere else.”

Forecasters warned that Sally could unleash flooding similar to what Hurricane Harvey inflicted in 2017 in swamping the Houston metropolitan area.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves urged people in the southern part of the state to prepare for the potential for flash flooding. He said about 120 people were in shelters in Mississippi.

As rain grew heavier Tuesday, many businesses appeared to be closed at exits along the Interstate 10 highway running along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida.

In Gulfport, Mississippi, white plastic bags hung over some gas station pumps that were out of fuel. Along a bayou inland from the Gulf, three shrimp boats were tied up as shrimpers tried to protect their boats from waves. Metal storm shutters or plywood covered the windows of many businesses.

In Alabama, officials closed the causeway to Dauphin Island and the commuter tunnel that runs beneath the Mobile River.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey urged residents near Mobile Bay and low-lying areas near rivers to evacuate if conditions still permitted a safe escape. Revised forecasts late Tuesday predicted that storm surge along Alabama's coast could reach 6 feet (1.8 meters) at Dauphin Island and as much as 4 feet (1.2 meters) at Mobile Bay.

“This is not worth risking your life,” Ivey said.

Once ashore, Sally was forecast to cause flash floods and minor to moderate river flooding across inland portions of Mississippi, Alabama, northern Georgia and the western Carolinas over ensuing days.

President Donald Trump issued emergency declarations for parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on Monday, and tweeted that residents should listen to state and local leaders.

On the barrier island of Pensacola Beach, Florida, the Sandshaker Lounge was open Tuesday afternoon, filled with about 30 locals and tourists staying at nearby hotels.

“I think I’m the only business open,” said bartender Kyra Smith. She said most locals have lived in the area for decades and have weathered many storms bigger than Sally.

“We’re just going to ride it out,” she said.

___

Wang reported from Pascagoula, Mississippi. Associated Press reporters Jeff Martin in Marietta, Georgia; Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia; Sophia Tulp in Atlanta; Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Florida; Rebecca Santana in New Orleans; Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi and Kim Chandler in Montgomery, Alabama, contributed to this report.

This GOES-16 GeoColor satellite image taken Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, at 3 p.m. EDT., and provided by NOAA, shows Hurricane Sally moving slowly towards the coast from the Gulf of Mexico. Forecasters now expect landfall late Tuesday or early Wednesday near the Alabama-Mississippi state line. (NOAA via AP)

Credit: Uncredited

Credit: Uncredited

Storm surge from Hurricane Sally overtakes the outside parking lot and the first floor of the Palace casino parking garage in Biloxi, Miss., on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The slow moving hurricane is driving a developing tidal surge and rains to a number of communities along the gulf coast. (Lukas Flippo/The Sun Herald via AP)

Credit: Alyssa Newton

Credit: Alyssa Newton

Corbin Boyce holds an American flag on the beach near Fort Walton Beach, Fla., on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, as strong winds and rough waves from Hurricane Sally scour the shoreline. (Devon Ravine/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP)

Credit: DEVON RAVINE

Credit: DEVON RAVINE

Waters from the Gulf of Mexico poor onto a local road, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in Waveland, Miss. Hurricane Sally, one of a record-tying five storms churning simultaneously in the Atlantic, closed in on the Gulf Coast on Monday with rapidly strengthening winds of at least 100 mph (161 kph) and the potential for up to 2 feet (0.6 meters) of rain that could bring severe flooding. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbrt)

Credit: Gerald Herbrt

Credit: Gerald Herbrt

People play in a flooded parking lot at Navarre Beach, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Pensacola Beach, Fla. Hurricane Sally is crawling toward the northern Gulf Coast at just 2 mph, a pace that's enabling the storm to gather huge amounts of water to eventually dump on land. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Credit: Gerald Herbert

Credit: Gerald Herbert

An empty vehicle sits in floodwaters in a driveway in Pascagoula, Miss., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The low-lying neighborhood was overtaken by flooding from rains associated with Hurricane Sally. (Lukas Flippo/The Sun Herald via AP)

Credit: Lukas Flippo

Credit: Lukas Flippo

Waves crash against the nearly empty Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., early Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Although Hurricane Sally was more than 100 miles to the south in the Gulf of Mexico, the storm's effects were felt all along the Florida panhandle. (Devon Ravine/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP)

Credit: DEVON RAVINE

Credit: DEVON RAVINE

A man walks bear the gulf as Hurricane Sally moves in, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Gulf Shores, Ala. Hurricane Sally, one of a record-tying five storms churning simultaneously in the Atlantic, closed in on the Gulf Coast on Monday with rapidly strengthening winds of at least 100 mph (161 kph) and the potential for up to 2 feet (0.6 meters) of rain that could bring severe flooding. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbrt)

Credit: Gerald Herbrt

Credit: Gerald Herbrt

A man watches Hurricane Sally's rough surf overtake Buffett Beach in Pascagoula, Miss., on Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 15, 2020. The slow moving hurricane is driving a developing tidal surge and rains to a number of communities along the gulf coast. (Alyssa Newton/The Sun Herald via AP)

Credit: Alyssa Newton

Credit: Alyssa Newton

People play in a flooded parking lot at Navarre Beach, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Pensacola Beach, Fla. Hurricane Sally is crawling toward the northern Gulf Coast at just 2 mph, a pace that's enabling the storm to gather huge amounts of water to eventually dump on land. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Credit: Gerald Herbert

Credit: Gerald Herbert

Waters from the Gulf of Mexico, driven by Hurricane Sally, flood this Pass Christian, Miss., street and threaten the homes that line it Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. A slow moving Hurricane Sally is expected to bring between 10 to 20 inches of rainfall to the area. (Hunter Dawkins/The Gazebo Gazette via AP)

Credit: Hunter Dawkins

Credit: Hunter Dawkins

Casey Guidry tosses one of several crab traps that had been pushed around from the rising water near his home along Salt Bayou near Slidell, La., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Hurricane Sally missed Louisiana, but high water still affected the area. (Chris Granger/The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate)

Credit: Chris Granger

Credit: Chris Granger

Casey Guidry, 22, far right, moves crab traps that had been pushed around from the rising water near his home along Salt Bayou near Slidell on Tuesday, September 15, 2020. Hurricane Sally missed Louisiana, but its effect, such as high water, could be felt along the region. (Chris Granger/The Advocate via AP)

Credit: Chris Granger

Credit: Chris Granger

A boat is anchored to a small shrub near this mailbox in a front yard just south of Slidell, La., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Hurricane Sally missed Louisiana, but high water still affected the area. (Chris Granger/The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate)

Credit: Chris Granger

Credit: Chris Granger

Hanging out in flood waters, Cameron Fogg, right, sits by his crab traps as he drinks a beer with Austin Claiborne, 18, left, and Cameron Gomez, center, in Salt Bayou near Slidell, La., on Tuesday, September 15, 2020. Hurricane Sally missed Louisiana, but its effect, such as high water, could be felt along the region. Fogg has lived in this house for 30 years and he said he's getting tired of the recurrence of rising water. (Chris Granger/The Advocate via AP)

Credit: Chris Granger

Credit: Chris Granger

A person takes a photo at Navarre Beach, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Pensacola Beach, Fla. Hurricane Sally is crawling toward the northern Gulf Coast at just 2 mph, a pace that's enabling the storm to gather huge amounts of water to eventually dump on land. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbrt)

Credit: Gerald Herbrt

Credit: Gerald Herbrt

Winds from Hurricane Sally puff up the jacket of Thomas Riddle as he watches the rough surf from the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., early Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Although Hurricane Sally was more than 100 miles to the south in the Gulf of Mexico, the storm's effects were felt all along the Florida panhandle. (Devon Ravine/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP)

Credit: DEVON RAVINE

Credit: DEVON RAVINE

Waves crash against a dock on Choctawhatchee Bay near Brooks Bridge in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., early Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Although Hurricane Sally was more than 100 miles to the south in the Gulf of Mexico, the storm's effects were felt all along the Florida panhandle. (Devon Ravine/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP)

Credit: DEVON RAVINE

Credit: DEVON RAVINE

Heading out to lunch, Lucas Lindholm, 27, had to go for an Olympic-style leap from the front steps of his friend's house in Salt Bayou near Slidell on Tuesday, September 15, 2020. Hurricane Sally missed Louisiana, but its effect, such as high water, could be felt along the region. Kyle Wheeler, 26, right, decided just to walk through the water as they leave. (Chris Granger/The Advocate via AP)

Credit: Chris Granger

Credit: Chris Granger

City of Biloxi work crews take advantage of the slow moving Hurricane Sally's winds to clean off sand from U.S. Highway 90 in Biloxi, Miss., on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Hurricane Sally is still moving slowly towards the Gulf Coast, and is expected to bring between 10 to 20 inches of rainfall. (Lukas Flippo/The Sun Herald via AP)

Credit: Lukas Flippo

Credit: Lukas Flippo

Nora Wood, 5, braves a light rain from Hurricane Sally to check on an ant mound in her low-lying Pascagoula, Miss., neighborhood Tuesday morning, Sept. 15, 2020. Wood wanted to make sure the ants were okay and had not been washed away. (Lukas Flippo/The Sun Herald via AP)

Credit: Lukas Flippo

Credit: Lukas Flippo

Bryan Lockwood, of Gulfport, takes advantage of the waves being brought into the Mississippi Sound in Biloxi, Miss. from Hurricane Sally to surf, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Hurricane Sally is still moving slowly towards the Gulf Coast, and is expected to bring between 10 to 20 inches of rainfall to a number of communities along the waters. (Lukas Flippo/The Sun Herald via AP)

Credit: Lukas Flippo

Credit: Lukas Flippo

A father and son walk through the Hurricane Sally tidal surge in Ocean Springs, Miss., to fish on the beach, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Hurricane Sally slowly approaches the Gulf Coast Tuesday evening, and is expected to bring between 10 to 20 inches of rainfall. (Lukas Flippo/The Sun Herald via AP)

Credit: Lukas Flippo

Credit: Lukas Flippo