Hurricane Sally touched down on the coast of Alabama in the US early Wednesday morning local time, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) confirmed, killing at least one person and bringing with it torrential rains and a surge of ocean water that could cause devastating flooding in the days to come.
The Category 2 hurricane moved ashore at a slow 5 kilometers (3 miles) per hour, hitting the Gulf Coast with winds blowing 165 kilometers per hour.
The coastal areas of the states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida are particularly vulnerable to damage from the hurricane, the NHC said. Some isolated areas could receive nearly three feet (89 centimeters) of rain, according to the center.
The storm made landfall close to Gulf Shores, Alabama, and quickly moved over to Pensacola, Florida and Mobile, Alabama, metropolitan areas with around 1 million residents altogether. The storm cast boats onto land, peeled away roofs and left hundreds of thousands without power.
The death happened in Orange Beach, Alabama, according to Mayor Tony Kennon. At least 50 people in Orange Beach had been rescued from flooded homes and taken to shelters, said Kennon.
“We got a few people that we just haven’t been able to get to because the water is so high,” he said. “But they are safe in their homes. As soon as the water recedes, we will rescue them.”
Hundreds of thousands without power
Meanwhile, more than 550,000 homes and businesses in Alabama, Florida and Mississippi have lost power, according to the tracking site poweroutage.us.
By the afternoon, local authorities said that at least 377 people had been rescued from flooded areas. Additionally, authorities in Pensacola said 200 National Guard members would arrive on Thursday to help with rescue efforts. Officials also announced a three-day dusk-to-dawn curfew in Escambia County, which includes Pensacola.
By early afternoon, Sally had weakened into a tropical storm, with winds down to 110 kph. However, experts fear even more damage in the coming days, with heavy rain expected through Thursday.
Thousands more will likely need to flee rising waters in the coming days, said Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan.
“There are entire communities that we’re going to have to evacuate,” said Morgan. “It’s going to be a tremendous operation over the next several days.”
Governors declare states of emergency
The governors of Mississippi and Alabama have also declared a state of emergency for their states.
“We are facing record flooding, perhaps even a historic high,” Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said in a press conference. “The higher the water rises, the higher the risk of loss of property and life.”
Sally is one of five tropical cyclones currently active in the Atlantic Ocean, a phenomenon that meteorologists say has only been registered once before, in September 1971.
At the end of August, Hurricane Laura caused severe damage in the US, killing 14 people in Louisiana and Texas.Thousands are still without power from that storm, and some still in shelters.
Hurricane Teddy also became a hurricane on Wednesday in the Atlantic, with winds of 160 kph. Forecasters said it could reach Category 4 strength before closing in on Bermuda, which just days ago took a direct hit from Hurricane Paulette.
US President Donald Trump has compared Hurricane Sally to Hurricane Laura, but said the storm was “under control.”
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