Hurricane Sally careens into Alabama's Gulf Coast, bringing heavy rains
MOBILE, Ala. (Reuters) - Hurricane Sally made landfall on Alabama's Gulf Coast on Wednesday morning as a Category 2 hurricane, spreading strong winds inland across the region, the latest in what has been a busy season of dangerous storms in the United States.
The hurricane caused extensive flooding throughout the region, including several feet in downtown Pensacola, Florida, according to images shared by the National Weather Service on Twitter. Some parts of the Gulf Coast could see 3 feet (90 cm) of rain, as it is moving at a glacial 3 mile-per-hour (6 km-per-hour) pace.
Upon landfall at Gulf Shores, Alabama, winds were clocked at 105 mph (165 kph), able to cause extensive damage, according to the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. The storm poses the risk of life-threatening flooding along portions of the coast, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory around 8 a.m. CDT (1300 GMT).
More than 430,000 homes and businesses were without power in Alabama and Florida early Wednesday, according to local utilities, with more outages expected.
Officials across the South had called on residents of low-lying areas to shelter away from rain and winds. In Pensacola, a wind gust registered 81 mph (130 kph) on Wednesday, while in Mobile, Alabama, a gust was clocked at 74 mph (120 kph).
In downtown Mobile, strong winds shook windows, while trees and power lines swayed. Dexter Hart, who lives near the city, relocated to a hotel in the area because his house is surrounded by trees.
"It's scary right now," he said of the wind. "It's been keeping me up all night."
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. The storm reminded some residents of Hurricane Ivan, which touched down near Gulf Shores exactly 16 years ago as a Category 3 hurricane.
Ivan, however, was "stronger and bigger," said John, a 22-year-old resident of Mobile who was working at a hotel on Wednesday during Hurricane Sally. He wished to remain anonymous because his employer did not give him permission to speak.
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. But they were closed to vessel traffic from Biloxi, Mississippi, to Pascagoula, Florida.
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 and Jonathan Oatis)
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