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Hurricane Sally Hits Alabama, May Cause Catastrophic Flooding


Sally has been downgraded to a tropical storm after making landfall as a powerful Category 2 hurricane on the Alabama coast. The stronger-than-anticipated storm caused widespread damage and flooding along a wide stretch of the north central Gulf Coast. Power was knocked out for more than a half million customers. NPR's Debbie Elliott joins us now from Gulf Shores, Ala., where the storm came ashore early this morning.

Hi, Debbie.


PFEIFFER: Could you tell us the current impact of Sally? What is it like where you are?

ELLIOTT: Well, we're still getting a good bit of rain, gusty winds from time to time. And that's sort of complicated things for emergency responders who are trying to clear debris and get to people who are in trouble. You know, hundreds of people have had to be rescued from rising floodwaters. The National Weather Service is saying Hurricane Sally is responsible for historic and catastrophic flooding.

And I've been hearing from people who live along canals and back bays where they describe the water just coming up so quickly, washing over roads and literally crashing waves into their homes, washing away cars, floating away boats or sinking boats. In Orange Beach, Ala., the next town over, there are boats that floated onto the main road that cuts through town. Sally also took out a major section of a public fishing pier in Gulf Shores, and a barge broke loose over in Pensacola and busted into a section of a bay bridge.

Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson spoke earlier to NPR's Here & Now, and he says they're just trying to make sure that folks are on high ground.


GROVER ROBINSON: Obviously, right now, dealing with flooding - either low-lying areas or those areas that are coastal. We - you know, taking care of all those places is going to be the first thing. And then from there, it's just the portion of cleanup that goes through afterwards when you have a storm like this.

PFEIFFER: Debbie, you mentioned a little about Gulf Shores already - that big chunk of a public fishing pier that's missing. Could you tell us more about what you're seeing in terms of damage and cleanup?

ELLIOTT: Well, I'm in a little inland neighborhood. It's a wooded neighborhood along a golf course. And trees are just uprooted everyplace you look or lying in roadways. Debris covers all the roads. Signs are down - road signs. The metal canopy at a nearby gas station has been torn up. Just, you know, everywhere you look, there is evidence that something very powerful came through here.

Chainsaw crews for hire from Texas are here. They're starting to clear up some yards. I was on one little cul-de-sac where at least 10 large trees were uprooted, several of them on top of homes. I spoke with Casey and Josh Cooper. They were with their school-aged son on the back porch, just trying to figure out a cleanup plan. The fence was down, and two giant pine trees had crashed into their house overnight, allowing the rain and insulation to pour into the house. They're a little dumbfounded, but they are trying to keep a good attitude.


CASEY COOPER: We're grateful that we're healthy and that we still have each other. That's really all that matters, honestly. The rest of it can be rebuilt. We've got our puppy and our kitty and each other.

J COOPER: And a hole in our roof.

C COOPER: And a hole in our roof.


C COOPER: What's next for 2020? We can't wait.

PFEIFFER: That's a good attitude. Debbie, do meteorologists know where Tropical Storm Sally heads now?

ELLIOTT: Yes, it's moving again so slowly inland over Alabama and Georgia and then across the southeast. Again, flooding is the major concern. Here along the coast, potential for flash flooding because so much rain came down, up to 20 inches in some places. Here's Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency Director Zach Hood talking about rivers.

ZACH HOOD: Magnolia Springs - that's not the only river that will reach historical, astronomical flood stage. It is very devastating flood stage, very life-threatening situation. This situation will be ongoing for quite some time.

PFEIFFER: Debbie, thank...

ELLIOTT: So more to come from Sally.

PFEIFFER: That's right. We'll hear from you more. That's NPR's Debbie Elliott in Gulf Shores, Ala.

Thank you.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.