BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Flash flood warnings were in effect Thursday for a swath of the southeastern U.S. after a stalled weather front drenched Alabama, leaving high water that covered roads, swamped a Piggly Wiggly store, unleashed sewage and forced water rescues. A child's death was blamed on the floods.
Parts of central Alabama got as much as 13 inches (33 centimeters) of rain as the low-pressure system lingered over Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, the National Weather Service said.
The forecast called for particularly intense rain Thursday in parts of metro Birmingham, which were under a flash flood watch, but meteorologists predicted another wet day for most of the state and parts of Florida. As much as 5 more inches (13 centimeters) of rain was possible through Thursday evening, the weather service said.
The Marshall County coroner’s office tweeted early Thursday that a child died as a result of the flash flooding in Arab, in northeast Alabama.
The rain caused havoc in places across north Alabama, submerging cars in metro Birmingham and parts of the Tennessee Valley. Rescue crews helped motorists escape as low visibility and standing water made travel life-threatening in some areas.
In Pelham, outside Birmingham, 82 people were rescued from homes and more than 15 were pulled from vehicles after up to 13 inches of rain sent creeks and streams overflowing their banks, the Pelham Fire Department said early Thursday. More than 100 rescuers were involved in the effort, as were 16 boats, the statement said.
“Water was coming in the car so fast I had to bail out the window,” said Jill Caskey, who watched Thursday morning as a tow truck hauled away her sport utility vehicle from a low-lying parking lot in Pelham. The car stalled as she was trying to navigate floodwaters during the deluge Wednesday night.
A police officer helped her to high ground, and Caskey’s husband picked her up on a roadside. But it then took them three hours to travel a few miles home because of flooded roads.
Caskey said she has heard the weather safety mantra of “turn around, don’t drown,” but “it really happened so fast I didn’t have time to think about it."
In south Alabama near the Florida line, water covered streets in the flood-prone Escambia County towns of Brewton and East Brewton, inundating businesses in a shopping center with several feet of water.
As much as 3 feet (1 meter) of water was inside the community's main grocery store, Piggly Wiggly, and two schools had to cancel classes, said Escambia Sheriff Heath Jackson.
“We’re hoping that the rain is going to stop so we can get some of this water ... out of here and we can start getting into these businesses that have taken on water to see what we can do to help them,” Jackson told WKRG-TV.
To the south, in Baldwin County, as much as 250,000 gallons (946,000 liters) of waste water overflowed from sewage systems along Mobile Bay, officials said.
With rainfall totals already ranging from 2 inches (5 centimeters) to as much 6 inches across the state this week, forecasters said another 3 inches (8 centimeters) of rain was possible, with the heaviest rains to the north.
Severe storms and a few isolated tornadoes from a slow-moving low pressure system were a threat, mainly in the afternoon, forecasters said. The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for northeastern Alabama, northwestern Georgia and southern Tennessee.
Rains should end in Alabama by late Thursday as storms move eastward. Flash flood warnings were in effect through Friday along the weather front, stretching from the Florida Panhandle through northern Georgia and mountainous regions of the eastern Tennessee and the western Carolinas.