The Alabama-Florida coast of the United States suffered what the US National Hurricane Center called “historic and catastrophic” flooding as Hurricane Sally uprooted trees, flooded streets and cut power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses on Wednesday.
Sally, which made landfall early Wednesday near Gulf Shores, Alabama, as a Category 2 storm, was downgraded in the afternoon to a tropical storm as maximum sustained winds dropped to 70 miles per hour (113 kph).
Some parts of the Gulf Coast had been inundated with more than 18 inches (46 cm) of rain over the previous 24 hours, with more precipitation expected even as the storm’s winds slow further, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
Several residents along the Alabama coast said they had been caught off guard by damage caused by the slow-moving storm, which flipped a tractor-trailer onto its side on one Alabama highway.
“It’s never been anything like this. It’s crazy. It’s because it stalled. If it had just passed through we would’ve been fine,” said Cody Phillips, a manager at Desoto’s Seafood Kitchen, located near the beach in Gulf Shores.
The coastal resort community of Pensacola, Florida, suffered up to five feet of flooding, and travel was cut by damaged roads and bridges. More than 500,000 homes and businesses across the area were without power as the storm knocked over stately oak trees and tore power lines from poles.
The storm was moving at a slow 5 mph pace toward the Alabama-Florida border but was predicted to pick up speed, the NHC said.
“The rain is what stands out with this one: It’s unreal,” said Cavin Hollyhand, 50, who left his home on a barrier island and took shelter in Mobile, Alabama, where he viewed the damage on Wednesday. Some isolated areas could see up to 35 inches (89 cm) of rain before Sally is done, the NHC said.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey told residents not to go outside to check on damage unless necessary, and to stay away from live power lines and fallen trees.