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Wednesday September 23rd, 2020 4:35PM

The Latest: Tropical force-winds spreading onto Gulf Coast

By The Associated Press
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Here are the latest developments on tropical weather (all times local):

MOBILE, Ala. — Tropical storm-force winds are continuing to spread onshore along the northern U.S. Gulf Coast as Hurricane Sally lumbers off the coast.

The National Hurricane Center said Tuesday evening that winds are picking up and life-threatening flooding is likely along portions of the Gulf Coast as the slow-moving hurricane crawls just off the coast.

At 7 p.m., the center of the storm was located about 75 miles (125 kilometers) south of Mobile, Alabama, and about the same distance southwest of Pensacola, Florida. The hurricane's top sustained winds have been clocked at 80 mph (130 kph). It's crawling northward at 2 mph (4 kph).

The National Weather Service said to 4 inches (10 centimeters) of rain has already fallen in some areas, and a flash flood warning has been issued in some areas. Meanwhile, monitoring stations have recorded gusts above 60 mph (96 kph) at Mobile and Pensacola.

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PENSACOLA, Fla. — In already-drenched Escambia County on the Florida Panhandle, Chief Deputy Chip Simmons vowed to keep his sheriff’s deputies out with residents as long as physically possible. The county includes Pensacola, one of the largest cities on the Gulf Coast.

“The sheriff’s office will be there until we can no longer safely be out there, and then and only then will we pull our deputies in,” he said at a storm briefing late Tuesday.

“We will be in your neighborhoods after the storm,” he added.

For those who have been in previous storms, he warned residents not to be in a situation where they must call for help in terrible weather conditions:

“You’ve heard some of the 911 calls, you know how terrifying and gut-wrenching they are,” he said. “Don’t be in a situation where you have to make a phone call, and a sheriff’s deputy or a firefighter or a paramedic can not get to you.”

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina environmental officials are urging owners and operators of reservoirs across the state to be ready to handle potentially heavy rainfall in the coming days as Hurricane Sally makes landfall and drenches inland areas.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control on Tuesday said the agency had performed “pre-hurricane season assessments of all dams of concern.”

In issuing guidance, Jill Stewart, director of DHEC’s Dam Safety and Stormwater Permitting Division, said owners should also notify anyone operating a dam downstream of their property if they are lowering water levels, and also clear trash and debris from spillways.

In 2015, more than 40 dams across the state failed in devastating floods that stranded homeowners and forced some into recreational boats to rescue neighbors. The historic rain and flooding led to 19 deaths and caused about $2 billion in damage.

A year later, Hurricane Matthew caused about 25 more dams to fail and another round of flooding.

After Matthew, South Carolina’s environmental agency requested more than $5 million to stabilize or tear down damaged dams and inspect others. State lawmakers also gave the agency $3 million to boost dam safety.

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BAYOU LA BATRE, Ala. — Two large casino boats broke loose Tuesday from a dock where they were undergoing construction work in Alabama as Hurricane Sally approached the Gulf Coast.

M.J. Bosarge lives near the Bayou La Batre shipyard and says at least one of the riverboats had done considerable damage to the dock.

“You really want to get them secured because with wind and rain like this, the water is constantly rising,” Bosarge said. “They could end up anywhere. There’s no telling where they could end up.”

Bosarge said this is particularly concerning because there are dozens of shrimp and other commercial fishing boats docked there, including ones his family runs.

“It could cause a lot of damage if something of that caliber got loose and headed this way,” he said.

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey is urging residents near Mobile Bay and low-lying areas near rivers to evacuate if conditions still permit a safe escape from Hurricane Sally.

The National Hurricane Center has predicted storm surge along Alabama’s coast, including Mobile Bay, could reach 7 feet (2.1 meters) above ground. Forecasters have said Sally should reach land near the Alabama-Mississippi state line by late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

“This is not worth risking your life,” Ivey said during a news conference Tuesday.

John De Block of the National Weather Service also stressed the threat of flooding.

“A saying the National Weather Service has is ’Hide from the wind, run from the water,” De Block said during the news conference. “Now is the time to run from the water.”

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GAUTIER, Miss. — With Hurricane Sally still picking up ocean water well offshore, authorities along the U.S. Gulf Coast are shutting down some roadways and residents are clearing out or hunkering down.

The causeway to Dauphin Island in Alabama has been closed, and they're closing down the Bankhead Tunnel in Mobile until an expected storm surge recedes. Downtown Mobile is nearly deserted, with businesses boarded up and protected by sandbags.

Rain is starting to intensify along the I-10 highway that runs parallel to the coast through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Businesses along the highway exits appeared to be largely closed, and electronic messaging boards on the highway say that a hurricane warning for the area is “in effect.”

In Gulfport, Mississippi, white plastic bags hung over some gas station pumps, showing they're out of gas. And along a bayou, shrimp boats are being tied up as shrimpers batten down ahead of the waves and storm surge.

At 10 a.m. local time, the National Hurricane Center said the storm surge warning was in effect from the mouth of the Mississippi River to the Okaloosa/Walton County Line in Florida. A hurricane warning was in effect from east of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, to Navarre, Florida.

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ASBURY PARK, N.J. -- A man has drowned at the New Jersey shore in seas churned as Hurricane Paulette battered Bermuda.

Lavallette Mayor Walter LaCicero told the Asbury Park Press that the 60-year-old man and his 24-year-old son were swimming near the Vance Avenue beach on Monday when they had trouble in the rough surf. They were rescued, but the older man did not survive. Their names have not been released.

Officials closed beaches in nearby Seaside Heights after making about four water rescues on Monday. Neighboring Seaside Park reported five rescues in a 3-hour span. The National Weather Service warned of a high rip current risk through Tuesday night.

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Forecasters say Hurricane Sally could dump flooding rains on a path from Mississippi to the Carolinas this week after the storm makes landfall on the Gulf Coast.

The National Weather Service says after the storm comes inland Wednesday, rainfall of 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) is likely across portions of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas.

Significant flash flooding and minor to moderate river flooding is expected through the end of the week, and rainfall could reach 12 inches (30.5 centimeters) in isolated inland areas.

Hurricane Sally was creeping at 2 mph Tuesday toward the Gulf Coast morning, with landfall near the Mississippi-Alabama state line expected late Tuesday or early Wednesday. The storm was forecast to reach land as a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (137 kph). Sally was expected to weaken rapidly after coming ashore.

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The Florida Panhandle is being pummeled by heavy rains from Hurricane Sally’s outer bands. The powerful, plodding storm was crawling toward the northern Gulf Coast at 3 mph (4.8 kph) early Tuesday.

Its slow speed has raised concerns of extreme rainfall and flooding. Sally had winds of 100 mph, but forecasters were predicting the storm could strengthen even further before it is expected to blow ashore near the Mississippi-Alabama state line late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

Florida’s governor declared an emergency in two western Panhandle counties. President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration for Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Online - Georgia News
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