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Hurricane Sally slows, gathering a deluge for the Gulf Coast

By The Associated Press
Posted 1:14PM on Tuesday 15th September 2020 ( 3 days ago )

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) — Hurricane Sally, a plodding storm with winds of 85 mph (137 kph), crept toward the northern Gulf Coast on Tuesday as forecasters warned of potentially deadly storm surges and flash floods with the heaviest downpours dumping nearly 2 feet (0.6 meters) of rain.

Forecasters said the storm's drifting pace made it difficult to predict precisely where the storm's eye would make landfall. But they kept nudging the predicted track eastward, easing fears in New Orleans, which was once in Sally's crosshairs.

By late morning Tuesday, hurricane warnings stretched from east of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, to Navarre, Florida, and forecasters said Sally should reach land near the Alabama-Mississippi state line by late Tuesday or early Wednesday. Rainfall of up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) was forecast near the coast, with a chance the storm could also spawn tornadoes.

Stacy Stewart, a senior specialist with the National Hurricane Center, said Tuesday that people should continue to take the storm seriously since “devastating” rainfall is expected in large areas. People could drown in the flooding, he said.

“This is going to be historic flooding along with the historic rainfall,” Stewart said. “If people live near rivers, small streams and creeks, they need to evacuate and go somewhere else.”

Along the I-10 highway that runs parallel to the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida, rain was starting to intensify in places like Gautier and Pascagoula, Mississippi. Businesses along highway exits appeared to be largely closed. Pascagoula police tweeted video of rising seawater flowing across a coastal roadway.

In Gulfport, Mississippi, white plastic bags hung over some gas station pumps to signal they were out of fuel. Along a bayou that extended inland from the Gulf, three shrimp boats were tied up as shrimpers and others tried to protect their boats from waves and storm surge. Most boat slips at Gulfport's marina were empty, and many businesses had metal storm shutters or plywood covering the windows.

In Alabama, officials closed the causeway to Dauphin Island and the commuter tunnel that runs beneath the Mobile River. An online video from Dauphin Island showed a few cars and SUVs stuck in a beachfront area, their tires sunk deep into wet sand.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey urged residents near Mobile Bay and low-lying areas near rivers to evacuate if conditions still permitted a safe escape. The National Hurricane Center predicted storm surge along Alabama's coast, including Mobile Bay, could reach 7 feet (2.1 meters) above ground.

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

The storm was moving at only 2 mph (4 kph) late Tuesday morning, centered about 110 miles (180 kilometers) south of Mobile, Alabama, and 55 miles (85 kilometers) east of the mouth of the Mississippi River. Hurricane-force winds stretched 45 miles (75 kilometers) from its center.

Forecasters expected Sally to move slowly northward Tuesday, with the storm's center bypassing the coast of southeastern Louisiana. Forecasters said the storm should remain a Category 1 hurricane, with top winds of 85 mph (137 kph), until it comes ashore.

After making landfall, Sally was forecast to cause flash floods and minor to moderate river flooding across inland portions of Mississippi, Alabama, northern Georgia and the western Carolinas through the rest of the week.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared an emergency in the Panhandle's westernmost counties, which were being pummeled by rain from Sally's outer bands early Tuesday. The threat of heavy rain and storm surge was exacerbated by the storm’s slow movement.

President Donald Trump issued emergency declarations for parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on Monday, and tweeted that residents should listen to state and local leaders.

It all seemed a distant threat Monday afternoon in Waveland, Mississippi, as a shirtless, barefooted Trevor Claunch, of nearby Bay St. Louis, got in some last-minute beach time. But there were signs of trouble coming. Gulf waters had already crept over swaths of sandy shore and infiltrated bike paths and parking lots.

“Without any rain, and it’s already all the way up — I honestly want to stick around and see where it goes," said Claunch.

But he wasn't taking any chances.

“We’re going to go inland,” he said.

Sally achieved hurricane strength Monday and quickly intensified to a Category 2 storm with 100 mph (161 kph) winds. Its maximum sustained winds dwindled to a Category 1 by early Tuesday, and forecasters did not predict further strengthening.

While the threat to Louisiana appeared to be easing, flood control authorities remained on guard, closing gates along networks of waterways that could overflow their banks from storm surge.

The southwestern part of the state was pummeled by Hurricane Laura on Aug. 27 and an estimated 2,000 evacuees from that storm were sheltered in New Orleans, mostly in hotels.

Monday marked only the second time on record, forecasters said, that five tropical cyclones swirled simultaneously in the Atlantic basin. The last time that happened was in 1971. None of the others were expected to threaten the U.S. this week, if at all. One was downgraded to a low pressure trough Monday evening.

The extraordinarily busy hurricane season — like the catastrophic wildfire season on the West Coast — has focused attention on the role of climate change.

Scientists say global warming is making the strongest of hurricanes, those with wind speeds of 110 mph or more, even stronger. Also, warmer air holds more moisture, making storms rainier, and rising seas from global warming make storm surges higher and more damaging.

In addition, scientists have been seeing tropical storms and hurricanes slow down once they hit the United States by about 17% since 1900, and that gives them the opportunity to unload more rain over one place, as 2017’s Hurricane Harvey did in Houston.

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Plaisance reported from Waveland, Mississippi; Associated Press reporters Jeff Martin in Marietta, Georgia; Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia; Rebecca Santana and Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans; Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland; Emily Wagster Pettus and Leah Willingham, in Jackson, Mississippi; and Kim Chandler in Montgomery, Alabama, contributed to this report.

Waters from the Guld of Mexico poor onto a local road, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in Waveland, Miss. Hurricane Sally, one of a record-tying five storms churning simultaneously in the Atlantic, closed in on the Gulf Coast on Monday with rapidly strengthening winds of at least 100 mph (161 kph) and the potential for up to 2 feet (0.6 meters) of rain that could bring severe flooding. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbrt)
Nikita Pero of Gulfport, Miss., walks with her son Vinny Pero, 2, on the beach along the Gulf of Mexico in Biloxi, Miss., Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. Hurricane Sally is expected to make landfall along the Gulf Coast sometime through the night and morning. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Vinny Pero, 2, walks in a tidal pool on the beach along the Gulf of Mexico in Biloxi, Miss., with his mother, not pictured, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. Hurricane Sally is expected to make landfall along the Gulf Coast sometime through the night and morning. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Bay St. Louis residents, from left, John Dixon, his wife Sabrina Young, and Erika Crain, talk about their experiences while at the Hancock County Evacuation Shelter in Kiln, Miss., as people begin to trickle into the Hancock County Emergency Management Agency and American Red Cross shelter in preparation for Hurricane Sally as it approaches the Gulf Coast Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. "The people will be coming but it will be too late. They'll have the bare necessities," Young says. "I did that with Katrina — the clothes on our backs and that was it. I don't want to be in that situation again." (Barbara Gauntt/The Clarion-Ledger via AP)P)
Caroline McCree, from right, 86, of Waveland, Miss., waits as her fiancé, Charles Ezeb, 81, receives assistance with signing in from Red Cross volunteer Cathy Tatum, of Hattiesburg, Miss., at the Hancock County Evacuation Shelter in Kiln, Miss., as people begin to trickle into the Hancock County Emergency Management Agency and American Red Cross shelter in preparation for Hurricane Sally as it approaches the Gulf Coast Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. (Barbara Gauntt/The Clarion-Ledger via AP)
Dustin Seawright, 7, of Kiln, Miss. passes the time in the Hancock County Evacuation Shelter in Kiln, Miss., playing a game as people begin to trickle into the Hancock County Emergency Management Agency and American Red Cross shelter in preparation for Hurricane Sally as it approaches the Gulf Coast Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. Seawright and his grandmother, Judith Schwartz, live in a mobile home in Kiln. "It's coming in as a category 2 and they say don't stay in mobile homes, so that's why we're here," Schwartz says. "I would have definitely stayed but not with him. I rode out Katrina and Camille." (Barbara Gauntt/The Clarion-Ledger via AP)
This photo provided by Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier shows cars stranded in the sand, as flooding continues in Tonty Court on Dauphin Island, Ala., Monday, Sept 14, 2020, as Sally closes in on the Gulf Coast. (Jeff Collier via AP)
Don Robin stands on a concrete block as the water rises in eastern St. Bernard Parish, La., as Hurricane Sally heads toward the Gulf Coast on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. Robin was making sure one of his oyster boats was safely secured. (Chris Granger/The Advocate via AP)
Waters from the Guld of Mexico poor onto a local road, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in Waveland, Miss. Hurricane Sally, one of a record-tying five storms churning simultaneously in the Atlantic, closed in on the Gulf Coast on Monday with rapidly strengthening winds of at least 100 mph (161 kph) and the potential for up to 2 feet (0.6 meters) of rain that could bring severe flooding. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbrt)
Anthony Woods, right, and Fabian Barreto, who both serve in the military, secure sandbags as they prepare for heavy rain and storm surge from Hurricane Sally in Gulfport, Miss., on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. (Lukas Flippo/The Sun Herald via AP)
The overflow of the Davis Avenue River in Pass Christian, Miss., sweeps over the road Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. The waters, from rains associated with incoming Hurricane Sally will make the road impassable by Tuesday. (Hunter Dawkins/The Gazebo Gazette via AP)
The Hurricane Katrina monument is surrounded by rising water in eastern St. Bernard Parish, La., evacuate for Hurricane Sally on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. (Chris Granger/The Advocate via AP)
St. Bernard Parish, La., sheriff's officers drive their car through a flooded street where the Hurricane Katrina monument, left, is surrounded by water in eastern St. Bernard Parish as Hurricane Sally approaches the Gulf Coast on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. (Chris Granger/The Advocate via AP)
A truck plows through seawater as Beach Boulevard floods in Waveland, Miss., Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. Winds from Hurricane Sally mixed with the high tide pushed waters across the seawall that separates the low lying roadway that borders much of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. (Lukas Flippo/The Sun Herald via AP)
Fabian Barreto loads sandbags into his pickup truck, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in Gulfport, Miss. Barreto and his wife, Desi Barreto, live in a new home subdivision in Gulfport and their backyard easily floods. They hope the bags will keep water from flooding the house. (Alyssa Newton/The Sun Herald via AP)
Waves crash near a pier, at Gulf State Park, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Gulf Shores, Ala. Hurricane Sally is crawling toward the northern Gulf Coast at just 2 mph, a pace that's enabling the storm to gather huge amounts of water to eventually dump on land. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbrt)
Waters from the Gulf of Mexico poor onto a local road, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in Waveland, Miss. Hurricane Sally, one of a record-tying five storms churning simultaneously in the Atlantic, closed in on the Gulf Coast on Monday with rapidly strengthening winds of at least 100 mph (161 kph) and the potential for up to 2 feet (0.6 meters) of rain that could bring severe flooding. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbrt)

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