Friday, 25 Sep 2020

Hurricane Sally makes landfall in Alabama, threatens catastrophic flooding

GULF SHORES, ALABAMA (REUTERS) –  The eye of category 2 Hurricane Sally made landfall near Gulf Shores, Alabama on Wednesday (Sept 16), the US  National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.  

Sally, packing maximum sustained winds of 165 kilometres per hour, is likely to cause catastrophic and life-threatening flooding along portions of the north-central gulf coast, the NHC said.

The storm is a category 2 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, with 5 being the strongest. 

Sally  also poses the risk of “life-threatening flash flooding” with more than 60cm of rain landing on some areas as it creeps inland, the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said. 

Sally had been creeping toward the Alabama-Florida border at 4kph prior to landfall. 

Its winds and rains will stretch from Mississippi to the Florida Panhandle, the NHC said earlier.

Officials across the South had called on residents of low-lying areas to shelter away from the winds and rain. 

But for some, Hurricane Sally’s slow approach brought a chance to relive childhood memories of storms past, and to witness the power of nature first hand. 

Mr Thomas Harms braved the wind and rains on Tuesday to watch the waves crash into the Fairhope Municipal Pier, and reminisced about past storms.

As a child, he went with his grandfather to see storms arrive, and he did the same on Tuesday for his son. 

“It kind of takes a little bit of the fear out of it and also help you understand the dangers of it too,” said Mr Harms.

“I’ve been kind of passing that on to my son in doing the same thing.”

Others joined him on the pier to catch a glimpse of what was to come. 

“We were at home saying ‘we’re bored’, so I was like ‘how‘bout we go to Fairhope and see how bad it is out there.’ As you see, it’s pretty bad,” said Mr Warren Babb.

Damage from Sally is expected to reach US$2 billion (S$2.72 billion) to US$3 billion, said Mr Chuck Watson of Enki Research, which models and tracks tropical storms.

That could rise if the storm’s heaviest rainfall happens over land, Mr Watson said.

Governors from Louisiana to Florida warned people to leave low-lying communities and Mobile County, Alabama Sheriff Sam Cochran told residents of flood-prone areas that if they choose to ride out the storm, it will be “a couple of days or longer before you can get out.”

The causeway to Dauphin Island, Alabama, at the entrance to Mobile Bay was already flooded and impassable on Tuesday morning, the mayor said.

Coastal roads in Pascagoula, Mississippi, were flooding on Tuesday and some electrical wires were down, according to photos and social media posts from the police department, which asked people to respect road barricades and “refrain from joy riding.”

STORM-SURGE RISK

Nearly 11,000 homes are at risk of storm surge in the larger coastal cities in Alabama and Mississippi, according to estimates from property data and analytics firm CoreLogic.

Steady winds and bands of rain had started to arrive in Gulf Shores, Alabama, by Tuesday morning.

Ms Samantha Frederickson, who moved recently to Gulf Shores, hit the beach to catch a view of the storm surf. “At the moment, we’re riding it out,” she said amid light rains and winds. “When it gets to the point we don’t feel comfortable, we’ll take off.”

President Donald Trump made emergency declarations for Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, which help coordinate disaster relief.

Ports, schools and businesses closed along the coast.  As the storm track shifted east, ports along the Mississippi River were reopened to travel on Wednesday. But they remained close to vessel traffic from Biloxi, Mississippi, to Pascagoula, Florida.

Energy companies buttoned up or halted oil refineries and pulled workers from offshore oil and gas production platforms.

More than a quarter of US offshore oil production was shut.

Sally is the 18th named storm in the Atlantic this year and will be the eighth tropical storm or hurricane to hit the United States – something “very rare if not a record” said Mr Dan Kottlowski, senior meteorologist at AccuWeather, noting that accurate data on historic tropical storms can be elusive.

The NHC is tracking four named storms in the Atlantic basin. One of them, Teddy,  strengthened into a hurricane on Wednesday packing maximum winds 140kph, the NHC said.  The system  was about 1,335 km east of Lesser Antilles, the NHC said. It is currently on a track towards Bermuda.

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