Starting Tuesday afternoon and extending through the majority of yesterday evening, the Florida Panhandle and southern parts of Alabama fell victim to torrential rains that produced mass amounts of heavy flooding. Throughout the areas, the severe storm system stranded many residents in their attics, upturned roadways, and in at least one instance, an unfortunate fatality. Although emergency workers across the southern region did their best to respond to every call, some rescue missions were dampened by inaccessibility due to excessive floodwaters. Devastating weather conditions are also forecasted for the remainder of today in the eastern third of the states.
Over two feet of rain has fallen in the last 24 hours in isolated locations. Pensacola and Mobile each recorded over 11 inches of downpour, the third highest in daily recordings for over 130 years, according to Capital_Climate on Twitter. About 30,000 people were reported as being without power. Florida Gov. Rick Scott said about 300 emergency calls came in for rescue efforts throughout the evening and by midmorning Wednesday about 210 responses were completed.
Within 60 minutes Tuesday evening, between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., the National Weather Service reported more than five inches of rain fall in Pensacola, Florida, more than the total calculated rainfall from Hurricane Ivan. Escambia County declared a state of emergency, ordering residents to stay clear of the roadways. The sheriff’s office logged a total of over 26 inches in Pensacola throughout a 24 hour period.
It should be noted that precipitation totals are still being accumulated. Due to power outages, some of the equipment used to collect data in certain areas was not able to make accurate measurements.
High-wheeled Humvees dispatched by the Florida National Guard pummeled through some of the hardest hit areas to try to reach people in threatening situations. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission sent out two boats with medical supplies to help those stranded and abandoned by the floodwaters.
Reports from locals recount horrific scenes from within the storm cell. Jill Hubbs, a resident of a housing development near Pensacola, reported swirling floodwaters sweeping cars into the storms current and depositing them yards away. In one instance, a teenager’s car flipped over, and with the help of some relatives, they were able to rescue to driver, who clung to a tree for safety. Hubbs reported another trapped vehicle in the area with two people inside and rapid-like water flooding the car. She said a fire truck was there, but they could not get to the car. She said the water inside the vehicle was filling up to halfway the height of the doors.
At the Alabama-Florida state line, people were either stranded in their cars or decided to abandon their vehicles and walk to a safe area. Interstate 10 was shut down due to excessively high water. Sections to the Scenic Highway near Pensacola were also wiped out by heavy rains re-routing travelers. South of Gaberonne, a 50-yard stretch of road collapsed, causing two vehicles to plummet 40 feet into a ravine.
Due to road flooding and multiple collapses, rescue missions were halted by the destruction, unable to respond to some calls for assistance. Escambia County spokesman Bill Pearson said although the county was sending out rescue crews, they teams simply could not get to some locations. Pearson said Bristol Oaks was hit the hardest. They had to send rescue boats in to get people from their attics.
In southern Alabama, Baldwin County EMA Director Mitchell Sims has reported that emergency calls were persistent throughout Tuesday night. In Fairhope, Alabama, 11.5 inches of rain fell over night, Sims stated. “Reverse 911 calls” were placed to residents in the area advising denizens not to travel.
Sections of downtown Mobile, Alabama, were flooded with more than a foot of rain. The torrential downpours also activated a sinkhole in the area, swallowing a whole truck.
Throughout the rest of today, including overnight hours, the majority of the eastern third of the states will see the continuation of heavy rain and flooding from the severe storm system. A severe thunderstorm forecast has been issued for the central Appalachians and Mid-Atlantic to the coastal Southeast and the Florida Panhandle from the Storm Prediction Center. For people in Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virgina, Wednesday is predicted to be the worst day of the storm, according to AccuWeather meteorologist Dan Kottlowski. Storms are expected to bring damaging winds with large hail and isolated tornadoes.
Storm systems have been ravaging the country over the past four days, reeking havoc around Little Rock, Arkansas, and Tupelo and Louisville, Mississippi. Fifteen deaths were recorded from the Arkansas tornadoes on Sunday, and the Mississippi storms on Monday resulted in 12 deaths. The Pensacola News Journal reported one drowning victim in Cantonment, Florida. Rescue workers will continue to do everything possible to assist in emergency calls, but due to the torrents of rain flooding the area, many efforts have been dampened by the force of Mother Nature.
By Stacy Feder