Two Deaths Blamed on Sally; National Guard Called in to Assist in Florida

Published in 17 September, 2020

At a Glance

  • Two deaths are being connected to the storm.

  • Hundreds of people have been rescued in Florida and Alabama, local authorities said.

  • A section of the Pensacola Bay Bridge in Florida collapsed. More than 2 feet of rain fell in Pensacola.

  • More than 500,000 homes and businesses were left without power.

At least two deaths are being blamed on Sally, which made landfall as a hurricane and moved inland over the Southeast.

One person was killed when a tree fell on a home in Atlanta.

In Alabama, Ken Grimes, city administrator in Orange Beach, confirmed the death of an unidentified man in the town on Wednesday.

Further details weren’t immediately available in either case.

A female was missing who knew the Alabama man, but it was unclear if the two were together at the time.

First responders in boats and high water vehicles aided hundreds of people stranded in flooding and storm surge as Sally made landfall Wednesday morning and moved inland across Alabama and Florida as a tropical storm.

Mandatory evacuation orders weren’t issued ahead of the storm in the hardest-hit areas, although residents in many vulnerable locations were advised to leave voluntarily.

“At one point we were grabbing things to evacuate because the water was starting to get up to the second level and then by that point it was too late for us to go anywhere,” Kirsten Colla, who lives in a townhouse on Escambia Bay in Pensacola, Florida, told weather.com in an interview Wednesday.

“I’ve never seen anything in my life like what I saw today. It happened so fast, so quickly, and it kind of stopped the same way.”

Refrigerators, boats, jet skis and a hot tub littered Colla’s neighborhood. She watched a roof blow off a nearby building.

“The flooding, the storm surge, the debris, the vastness of it all was, I think, the most terrifying part,” Colla said.

The water subsided after about an hour and Colla escaped unscathed. But more than 370 other people had been rescued from flooding throughout Escambia as of late Wednesday afternoon, county Public Safety Director Jason Rogers said in a news conference. Emergency medical services had responded to more than 200 calls.

More than 530,000 homes and businesses were without power across southern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle as of about 7 p.m. CDT Wednesday, according to poweroutage.us.

Sally was downgraded to a tropical storm hours after making landfall early Wednesday morning near Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Here’s a look at the damage caused by Sally’s wind, waves and rain.

Because of the need for assistance, 200 National Guard members were sent to the Pensacola area to help starting Thursday, according to the Associated Press. In Escambia County, a curfew was put in place for the next three nights, the New York Times reported.

Flooding was reported throughout the day across the region, including Panama City, where rescuers helped residents from their homes.

A chunk of the Pensacola Bay Bridge was missing after the storm lashed the upper Gulf Coast with high winds rain and storm surge.

The city of Gulf Breeze shared a traffic cam photo that showed the structure, also known as the Three-Mile Bridge, with a crane lying across it Wednesday morning.

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan confirmed in a morning news conference that a section of the bridge was gone.

Neighboring Santa Rosa County shared a photo of the gaping hole in the structure.

Besides the issue with the Pensacola bridge, a runaway barge at one point threatened to crash into Interstate 10’s Escambia Bay Bridge, located several miles inland.

Morgan told the New York Times he considered several ways to stop the barge, including firing 40-millimeter grenades at it. That plan was scuttled when the sheriff decided it was too dangerous and probably wouldn’t solve the problem.

Parts of Pensacola were inundated with water from storm surge and rainfall.

We believe that this is an epic proportion flooding event,” Rogers told WEAR-TV Wednesday morning. “There is extremely high water, moving water that is very dangerous.”

Morgan said at the morning news conference that high water vehicles and boats were being used to take people out of flooded homes.

“We anticipate the evacuations could literally be in the thousands,” Morgan said.

County officials earlier in the morning tweeted that the fire department, sheriff’s office and the National Guard were “actively working on water rescues and life-saving measures” in one area with 269 homes.

No mandatory evacuation orders were issued in Escambia County, but Rogers said those in low-lying areas should evacuate if they can. The Pensacola Bay Center was opened as a shelter ahead of the storm.

Separately from the bridge incidents, Interstate 10 was closed from the Alabama state line through the Escambia Bay Bridge due to flooding.

More than 2 feet of rain was reported in Pensacola, which took the brunt of the weather on the east side of the storm. Storm surge there rose at least 5.5 feet.

Emergency crews in Okaloosa County, about 60 miles to the east, were also responding to calls for rescues, according to WEAR.

Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson said storm surge, flooding and rainfall were the biggest concerns.

More than 24 inches of rain was recorded at Pensacola Naval Air Station.

“Stay at home and stay inside,” was Robinson’s message to residents. “There’s a lot of downed power lines, there’s any number of hazards that are out there. At this point, we’re still receiving hurricane-force winds, so do not get out right now.”

Pensacola and surrounding areas took a beating from the storm throughout the night.

“I know that things are just things, but it’s really hard for to just be sitting idle and just watching everything that we’ve [worked] so hard for be ruined,” a Twitter user named USNWifeMeagan said in a video posted around 1 a.m., describing in tears how water was flooding her family’s home.

Later, she posted that her home’s entire first floor was flooded.

Schools in the county were closed at least through Friday. The University of West Florida will remain closed through at least noon Thursday, and Pensacola International Airport is also closed.

Officials reminded residents to be cautious with generators and not to use them indoors or too close to buildings. At least 12 people were killed by carbon monoxide from generators in the days after Hurricane Laura hit Louisiana and Texas last month.

More than 286,000 homes and businesses were without power.

First responders in Orange Beach helped dozens of people stranded in their homes after flooding moved in overnight, WFSA-TV reported.

Photos showed crushed boats and debris on Dauphin Island, where Mayor Jeff Collier said numerous structures were damaged and trees were down, some on houses and cars. Parts of the island were accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Officials where the storm came ashore in Baldwin County warned that “major to catastrophic” flooding was still ongoing Wednesday afternoon.

Emergency Management Director Zachary Hood told The Weather Channel that rivers and other waterways were at an all-time high and still rising.

Hood said calls for rescue began coming in Tuesday night and continued throughout the day Wednesday. He attributed the large number of people being stranded to “historic” rainfall and the storm’s slow, meandering track that left it sitting offshore for an extended period of time.

“(Damage) is so widespread, it’s just incredible to see,” Hood said.

Drone video from the county showed walls blown out of a high-rise condominium, neighborhoods flooded and roofs damaged.

Winds gusted to 99 mph in Dauphin Island, Alabama, and 82 mph in Mobile.

More than 238,000 homes and businesses were without power in Alabama, nearly all of them in Mobile and Baldwin counties.

Video showed damage from winds and flooding in Gulf Shores, on a barrier island at the mouth of Mobile Bay.

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