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Hurricane Sally Slams The Florida Panhandle, And Now The Cleanup Begins

The storm dumped up to 30 inches of rain in some areas, 16 years after Hurricane Ivan struck the area.

Sixteen years to the day Hurricane Ivan slammed into Gulf Shores, Alabama, Hurricane Sally did the same early Wednesday – also as a Category-2 storm. 

Along with unleashing 105 mile an hour winds on the Panhandle, a slow-moving Sally deluged the Gulf Coast with up to 30 inches of rain from Pensacola Beach westward to Dauphin Island, Alabama -- causing dangerous flooding along the coastline and well inland in the days ahead. Now, the cleanup begins.

“As of right now the [Emergency Operations Center] is still activated at Level-1; we’ve got a lot of operational pieces that we put in place today,” said Dan Gilmore, Escambia County’s Emergency Manager. “A lot of things are coming together pretty good. We’ve got a lot of assets that will be coming in from outside the area.”

Gilmore adds that a lingering issue will be the rivers.

“Do not forget – even though we are done with this event with the wind and the rain – we still have the flooding of the rivers. Both the Perdido River and the Escambia River are both expected to go over 27 ft. flood stage. If you need to get out at those flood stages, please get out.”

Gulf Power crews are scheduled to begin restoring electricity on Thursday morning as of late Wednesday. The utility said late Wednesday that 95 percent of Escambia County and 66 percent of Santa Rosa are without power because of Sally.

Meanwhile, for at least the next few nights, there’s a dusk-to-dawn curfew across Escambia County. Sheriff David Morgan says that’s to cut down the potential for looting.

“If your house is flooded, your utilities will be cut off and you can no longer domicile there,” Morgan said. “And so now you have a vacant home; you can’t take all your valuable with you when we put you in one of the shelters. And so now your home is vulnerable.”

And the Sheriff had this message for those thinking about helping themselves to other people’s stuff.

“We worked with the State Attorney’s Office in prior incidences where we responded to natural disasters; they do not like looters,” said Morgan. “For you to take advantage of people in their most vulnerable times, I can guarantee you, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We will find you, ‘cause we’re going to be out in force in our neighborhoods. And we’ll make sure the state attorney takes care of that.”

A similar curfew is in effect in Okaloosa County. Pensacola Police Chief Tommi Lyter echoed the sentiments of the rest of the briefing participants, in calling for everyone to stay home for the time being.

“It is still an incredible dangerous situation; we still have power lines down, there are still a lot of trees down,” Lyter said. “So is nighttime, there’s no street lights up, so it’s difficult and dangerous to drive.”

The city of Pensacola will be closed on Thursday and Friday, with the exception of emergency personnel to help with cleanup. Mayor Grover Robinson says City Hall was dinged by Sally, but came out better than it did with Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

“We had some leaks,” said the mayor. “Fortunately, most of the offices are good. Mine’s probably the worst. We did move some stuff out there, but we are assessing all of our buildings. Same thing right now with our community centers.”

Robinson also rolled out the welcome mat for state officials to tour the area ravaged by Sally.

“I have had the opportunity to talk with Sen. [Rick] Scott; Gov. DeSantis, [Attorney Gen. Ashley] Moody, and also [Chief Financial Officer Jimmy] Patronis,” said Robinson. “All have expressed an interest in wanting to come here.”

“We’ll be surveying some of the damage and meeting with the local officials; and obviously we want to be helpful in any way that we can,” said the governor, who’s scheduled to tour the Pensacola area on Thursday, two days after President Trump approved the federal disaster declaration for the Panhandle.

DeSantis announced late Wednesday that help from the state will be pouring into the affected areas.

“We’ve activated 500 Florida National Guard soldiers; air assets, helicopters, and 50 high-water vehicles,” DeSantis said. “Fish and Wildlife also has 50 special operations group members, Florida Highway Patrol are deploying 60 troopers. We’ve also gotten some support from Tennessee and Oklahoma.”

In the next couple of days engineers from the Florida Department of Transportation will lead inspections of the new Three Mile Bridge, where a section is missing after the storm. An inspection of the Interstate-10 Bridge in Santa Rosa County is also planned.
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Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.