PENSACOLA, Fla. — Hurricane Sally lumbered ashore near the Florida-Alabama line Wednesday with 105 mph winds and rain measured in feet, not inches, swamping homes and trapping people in high water as it pushed inland for what could be a slow and disastrous drenching across the Deep South.
Moving at an agonizing 3 mph, or about as fast as a person can walk, the storm made landfall at 4:45 a.m. close to Gulf Shores, Alabama, about 30 miles from Pensacola. It accelerated to a light jog as it battered the Pensacola and Mobile, Alabama, metropolitan areas encompassing nearly 1 million people.
It cast boats onto land or sank them at the dock, flattened palm trees, peeled away roofs, blew down signs and knocked out power to more than a half-million homes and businesses. A replica of Christopher Columbus’ ship the Nina was missing from the Pensacola waterfront, police said.
Sally also tore loose a barge-mounted construction crane, when then smashed into the new Three Mile Bridge over Pensacola Bay, causing a section of the year-old span to collapse, authorities said. And it ripped away a large section of a newly renovated fishing pier at Alabama’s Gulf State Park.
Emergency crews plucked people from numerous flooded homes. In Escambia County, which includes Pensacola, more than 40 were rescued within a single hour, including a family of four found in a tree, Sheriff David Morgan said.
By early afternoon, Sally had weakened into a tropical storm, with winds down to 45 mph by 10 p.m. CDT, but the worst may be yet to come, with heavy rain expected into today as the storm pushes inland over Alabama and into Georgia. For much of the day, it was moving at just 5 mph, concentrating the amount of rain dropped on any one place.
Morgan estimated thousands more will need to flee rising waters in the coming days.