Watch above: The same system that spawned more than 100 tornadoes in the southern U.S. is now dumping enormous amounts of rain and flooding parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast. Mike Armstrong reports.
PENSACOLA BEACH, Fla. – In the latest blow from a days-long chain of severe weather battering the South and Midwest, Florida and Alabama were hit with widespread flooding early Wednesday, with people stranded in cars and homes waiting for rescuers to find a way around impassable roads and others abandoning vehicles to walk to safety.
The widespread flooding is the latest wallop of a storm system that still packed considerable punch days after the violent outbreak began in Arkansas and Oklahoma. At least 35 people have been killed in that storms that started Sunday and spread from Oklahoma in the central heartland to North Carolina on the Southeastern coast.
Fire rescue crews weren’t able to respond to some calls for help because of road flooding in and around Pensacola, and one woman died when she drove her car into high water, officials said. Boats and jet skis were moved from the beaches to the streets, aerial rescues were planned, and the National Guard sent high-wheeled vehicles.
Some people left their flooded cars and walked to find help on their own.
Up to 20 inches (50 centimetres) had fallen in Pensacola in a 24-hour period, National Weather Service meteorologist Phil Grigsby in New Orleans said Wednesday morning, with a few more inches expected. Grigsby said aerial rescues were planned, and the county moved boats and jet skis from the beaches to the streets to help. Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for 26 counties.
“We’ve seen pictures that people are posting with water halfway up their doors, front doors,” Grigsby said. “It’s going to be a big cleanup, looks like.”
In Pensacola Beach, people woke to violent storms, heavy rain and lightning. Standing water could be seen on many parts of the beach, and a military vehicle made its way through one heavily flooded neighbourhood. Pensacola Naval Air Station’s hospital was closed, as was the Air Force Special Operations centre at Hurlburt Field.
In Gulf Shores, Alabama, where nearly 21 inches (53 centimetres) of rain fell in a day’s time, the scene resembled the aftermath of a hurricane early Wednesday. The intracoastal waterway rose so high it reached the canal road linking the town with neighbouring Orange Beach.
Several Alabama shelters opened for evacuees, but some people had difficulty travelling, with numerous roads south of Interstate 10 flooded. The Department of Transportation said water covered parts of Alabama 59, the main road for beach-bound tourists.
In the inland town of Silverhill, the National Weather Service projected the normally placid Fish River to crest above its all-time high set during Hurricane Danny in 1997.
In Mobile, the emergency management agency estimated that the county had performed a few dozen rescues, mostly of people whose cars were stuck on flooded roads.
Over the past four days, the storms hit especially hard in places such as Arkansas’ northern Little Rock suburbs and the Mississippi cities of Louisville and Tupelo. Arkansas, with 15 deaths after a tornado blasted through Sunday, and Mississippi with 12 deaths from Monday’s storms, accounted for the brunt of the death toll.
–Associated Press writers Freida Frisaro in Miami; Jeff Amy and Adrian Sainz in Louisville, Mississippi; Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; and Erik Schelzig in Fayetteville, Tennessee; contributed to this report. Michael Hempen of AP Radio in Washington also contributed.
© The Canadian Press, 2014