Hundreds of people have been rescued after Hurricane Sally – which has since transformed into a tropical storm – made landfall in Alabama and Florida on Wednesday morning.
The storm arrived as a Category 2 hurricane in Gulf Shores, Alabama, around 4.45am with 105mph winds and rain depths in the feet, not inches, flooding homes and streets – as people were forced to evacuate from the southern coast.
Some areas have already been hit with 24 inches of rain, and a total of 35 inches could come in parts of Florida and Alabama, according to the National Weather Service. Why specific areas were getting hammered with high rains was due, in part, to how slowly the storm was moving. It was traveling at just 7mph up the coastal states.
First responders used boats and high water vehicles in parts of Florida and Alabama to rescue hundreds of trapped residents while Hurricane Sally transformed into a tropical storm, with winds decreasing to 70mph.
The rescues came after some of the areas hit the hardest were not issued mandatory evacuations. Residents were encouraged to voluntarily leave, but some people still stayed behind in their homes.
“At one point we were grabbing things to evacuate because the water was starting to get up to the second level and then by that point it was too late for us to go anywhere," Kirsten Colla, who lives in a townhouse on Escambia Bay in Pensacola, Florida, told weather.com.
Pensacola, Florida, and Mobile, Alabama, were hit the hardest by the storm on Wednesday morning, and their metropolitan areas encompass a combined population of nearly 1 million people.
By Wednesday afternoon, authorities in Escambia County, which includes Pensacola, said that at least 377 people had been rescued from flooded areas, according to the Associated Press.
To assist, 200 National Guard Members would be arriving in Pensacola by Thursday to help communities most impacted by the storm.
“There are entire communities that we’re going to have to evacuate,” Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said. “It's going to be a tremendous operation over the next several days.”
“We anticipate the evacuations could literally be in the thousands," he added.
Mr Morgan also confirmed a portion of the Pensacola Bay Bridge was gone after a barge slammed into a portion of the structure, which is known by locals as Three Mile Bridge.
"Anybody who uses the Three Mile Bridge, just know it's going to be a while before you get to use that again," a public safety official said.
Besides dangerous floodwaters causing concern, there are more than 530,000 homes and businesses currently without power in Alabama and Florida alone.
Tropical Storm Sally was expected to continue its slow-moving rainfall into areas of central Alabama, central Georgia, and parts of the Carolinas on Wednesday into Thursday. Central Alabama and central Georgia could receive 4 to 12 inches and parts of the Carolinas could receive 4 to 9 inches.
Hurricane Sally comes just 16 days after the same areas were hit with a Category 3 Hurricane Ivan.
The Associated Press contributed to this report