Rescuers reach people cut off by Gulf Coast hurricane

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Storm damaged boats sit at the dock in a marina, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Pensacola, Fla. Rivers swollen by Hurricane Sally's rains threatened more misery for parts of the Florida Panhandle and south Alabama on Thursday, as the storm's remnants continued to dump heavy rains inland that spread the threat of flooding to Georgia and the Carolinas.(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

PENSACOLA, Fla. – Rescuers on the Gulf Coast used boats and high-water vehicles Thursday to reach people cut off by floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Sally, even as a second round of flooding took shape along rivers and creeks swollen by the storm’s heavy rains.

Across southern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, homeowners and businesses began cleaning up, and officials inspected bridges and highways for safety, a day after Sally rolled through with 105 mph (165 kph) winds, a surge of seawater and 1 to 2 1/2 feet (0.3 to 0.8 meters) of rain in many places before it began to break up.

Sally sped up late Thursday, moving at 15 mph compared to its previous crawl of 3 and 5 mph (5 and 8 kph), but was still dumping heavy rains in southeastern Virginia and eastern North Carolina, where forecasters also said there was a chance of tornadoes. The storm was expected to dump as much as 8 inches (20 centimeters) in parts of the Carolinas and southern Virginia, prompting warnings of flash flooding and moderate river flooding. As much as 8 inches of rain fell in central Georgia on Thursday.

In hard-hit Pensacola and surrounding Escambia County, where Sally’s floodwaters had coursed through downtown streets and lapped at car door handles on Wednesday before receding, authorities went door-to-door to check on residents and warn them they were not out of danger.

“Please, please, we’re not out of the woods even if we’ve got beautiful skies today,” said Escambia County emergency manager Eric Gilmore.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis urged Panhandle residents not to let their guard down. “You’re going to see the rivers continue to rise,” DeSantis said after an aerial tour of the Panhandle.

Most rivers fed by the storm were cresting in Alabama and the Panhandle on Thursday, although the Shoal, in Florida was still rising, said Steve Miller of the National Weather Service in Mobile, Alabama. Near Crestview, Florida, portions of Interstate 10 and U.S. Highway 90 — the two main roadways running east to west through the Panhandle — were closed because of flooding from the Shoal, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

Crews carried out at least 400 rescues in Escambia County, Florida, by such means as high-water vehicles, boats and water scooters, authorities said. Rescuers focused their efforts Thursday on Innerarity Point, a narrow strip of land close to Pensacola that is home to waterfront homes and businesses. Floodwaters covered the only road out.