RTHK: Powerful storm lashes southeastern US
Hurricane Sally made landfall on Wednesday near Gulf Shores, Alabama, as a Category 2 storm, pushing a surge of ocean water onto the coast and dumping torrential rain that forecasters said would cause dangerous flooding from the Florida Panhandle to Mississippi and well inland in the days ahead.

Moving at an agonisingly slow 4.7 kilometres per hour, Sally finally came ashore at 4:45am local time with top winds of 165 kilometres per hour, the National Hurricane Centre said.

Sally’s northern eyewall had raked the Gulf Coast with hurricane-force winds and rain from Pensacola Beach, Florida, westward to Dauphin Island, Alabama, for hours before its centre finally hit land.

Trees were bending over and flailing around in the howling winds in downtown Pensacola, where driving rain flooded streets up to the bumpers of parked cars. In downtown Mobile, Alabama, a street light snapped, swinging wildly on its cable.

Nearly 400,000 homes and businesses had lost electricity by early Wednesday, according to the poweroutage.us site. A curfew was called in Gulf Shores due to life-threatening conditions. In the Panhandle's Escambia County, Chief Sheriff's Deputy Chip Simmons vowed to keep deputies out helping residents as long as physically possible. The county includes Pensacola, one of the largest cities on the Gulf Coast.

“The sheriff’s office will be there until we can no longer safely be out there, and then and only then will we pull our deputies in,” Simmons said at a storm briefing late Tuesday.

This for a storm that, during the weekend, appeared to be headed for New Orleans. “Obviously this shows what we’ve known for a long time with storms – they are unpredictable,” Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson IV said.

Stacy Stewart, a senior specialist with the hurricane centre, said the rainfall will be “catastrophic and life threatening” over portions of the Gulf Coast, Florida panhandle and southeastern Alabama, and will continue well after landfall, with the storm producing heavy rainfall Wednesday night and Thursday over portions of central and southern Georgia.

Sally was a rare storm that could make history, said Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the hurricane centre.

“Sally has a characteristic that isn’t often seen and that’s a slow forward speed and that’s going to exacerbate the flooding,” Rappaport said.

He likened the storm's slow progression to that of Hurricane Harvey, which swamped Houston in 2017. Up to 760 millimetres of rain could fall in some spots, and “that would be record-setting in some locations,” Rappaport said in an interview on Tuesday night.

Sally's impact was felt all along the northern Gulf Coast. Low lying properties in southeast Louisiana were swamped by the surge. Water covered Mississippi beaches and parts of the highway that runs parallel to them. Two large casino boats broke loose from a dock where they were undergoing construction work in Alabama.

In Orange Beach, Alabama, Chris Parks, a tourist from Nashua, New Hampshire, spent the night monitoring the storm and taking care of his infant child as strong winds battered his family’s hotel room. Their return flight home was cancelled, so they were stuck in Alabama until Friday.

“I’m just glad we are together,” Parks said. “The wind is crazy. You can hear solid heavy objects blowing through the air and hitting the building.”

Mississippi governor Tate Reeves urged people in the southern part of his state to prepare for flash flooding.

As Sally’s outer bands reached the Gulf Coast, the manager of an alligator ranch in Moss Point, Mississippi, was hoping he wouldn’t see a repeat of what happened at the gator farm in 2005, when about 250 alligators escaped their enclosures during Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge.

Gulf Coast Gator Ranch & Tours Manager Tim Parker says Sally has been a stressful storm because forecasters were predicting a storm surge of as much as 3 metres in his area. He felt some relief after surge predictions shifted.

Sally was forecast to bring heavy downpours to parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas later in the week. Some inland residents weren't waiting, driving to the coast to experience Sally's power before it hit land.

With heavy rains pelting Navarre Beach, Florida, and the wind-whipped surf pounding, a steady stream of people walked down the wooden boardwalk at a park for a look at the scene on Tuesday afternoon.

Rebecca Studstill, who lives inland, was wary of staying too long, noting that police close bridges once the wind and water get too high. With Hurricane Sally expected to dump rain for days, the problem could be worse than normal, she said.

“Just hunkering down would probably be the best thing for folks out here,” she said.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Teddy has now become a hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 160 kilometres per hour, the National Hurricane Centre said early Wednesday.

Teddy is located about 1,300 kilometres east of the Lesser Antilles. Some strengthening is forecast during the next few days, and Teddy is likely to become a major hurricane later Wednesday and could reach Category 4 strength on Thursday. (AP)



This story has been published on: 2020-09-16. To contact the author, please use the contact details within the article.



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