U.S. Gulf Inundated by Massive Floods from Hurricane Sally

Hurricane Sally slammed the U.S. Gulf Coast with high winds and heavy rains on Wednesday, turning coastal towns into lakes in the latest in a busy season of dangerous storms in the United States.

The storm landed as a Category 2 hurricane on Wednesday morning, swamping the coast with as much as 5 feet (1.5 m) of rain in some areas, according to the National Hurricane Center. More than 18 inches (45 cm) of rain have fallen in some spots, including Pensacola, Florida, where the downtown was flooded.

Parts of the region could see as much as 3 feet of rain, as the storm moved at a slow 4 mile-per-hour (7 km-per-hour) pace toward the Alabama-Florida border, similar to other recent U.S. storms that caused massive flooding and property damage.

“The rain is what stands out with this one. It’s unreal,” said Cavin Hollyhand, 50, who evacuated from nearby Dauphin Island in Alabama to a downtown Mobile hotel earlier in the week.

More than 500,000 homes and businesses were without power in Alabama and Florida early Wednesday, according to local utilities, with more outages expected. Some residents of Mobile ventured out as the city passed through the eye of the hurricane, but more rains were expected.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, in a message on Twitter, told residents not to go outside to check on damage unless necessary, and to stay away from live power lines and fallen trees.

“We haven’t had one this bad since I’ve been here,” said Grant Saltz, 38, who has lived in Mobile for seven years and runs a Moe’s Original BBQ restaurant. He was clearing debris and sawing branches off a fallen tree near the restaurant.

Sally is the 18th named storm in the Atlantic this year and the eighth of tropical storm or hurricane strength to hit the United States. Two other named storms have also recently formed in the Atlantic, and the hurricane season runs through the end of November.

“We’ve only got one name left,” said Jim Foerster, chief meteorologist at DTN, an energy, agriculture and weather data provider, referencing the procedure to name storms. “That’s going to happen here soon, Wilfred, and then we’ll be into the Greek alphabet.”

Upon landfall at Gulf Shores, Alabama, winds were clocked at 105 mph (165 kph). At the Gulf State Park, a section of the pier broke, according to local media.

In Pensacola, wind gusts clocked 77 mph on Wednesday, and images on social media showed major floods. One witness reported hailstorms in the city as well. City police told residents on Twitter not to drive around looking at damage due to high winds.

Damage from Sally is expected to reach $2 billion to $3 billion, said Chuck Watson of Enki Research, which tracks tropical storms and models the cost of their damage. That estimate could rise if the heaviest rainfall happens over land, Watson said.

Ports, schools and businesses were closed along the coast as Sally churned. As the storm track shifted east, ports along the Mississippi River were reopened to travel on Wednesday.

Energy companies also shut more than a quarter of U.S. Gulf of Mexico offshore oil and gas production, and some refiners halted or slowed operations.

(Reporting by Devika Krishna-Kumar and Catherine Koppel in Mobile, Alabama; additional reporting by Jennifer Hiller in Houston and Stephanie Kelly and Scott DiSavino in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Nick Zieminski, Jonathan Oatis, Steve Orlofsky and Marguerita Choy)