Sally weakens to tropical depression, brings heavy rains and flooding in southeastern U.S.

The remnants of Hurricane Sally on Thursday dumped more than 30 centimetres of rain on parts of Alabama, Florida and Georgia, washed out bridges and roads and left hundreds of thousands without power. The storm is also being blamed for the death of at least one person. 

Sally brought torrential rains and flash flooding to Georgia as it slogged to the Carolinas. As of 11 a.m. CT, it was about 185 kilometres southwest of Athens, Ga., moving northeast at 33 km/h, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

It struck Gulf Shores, Ala., a day earlier with winds clocked at 168 km/h and is believed to have killed one person in coastal Alabama, with another reported missing.

“We had a body wash up. We believe it was hurricane-related, but we have no definitive proof of that right now,” said Trent Johnson, a police lieutenant in Orange Beach, Ala.

Some parts of the coast were inundated with more than 60 centimetres of rain, as the slow-moving storm flooded communities. The coastal city of Pensacola, Fla., experienced up to 1.5 metres of flooding, and travel was cut by damaged roads and bridges. More than 465,000 homes and businesses across the area remain without power.

WATCH | Hurricane Sally brings large-scale flooding, major power outages:

‘We started hearing all of our windows start to pop,’ said Logan Estill of Mobile, Ala., as he rode out the Category 2 storm in the U.S. Gulf Coast. 0:47

Several residents along the Alabama and Florida coasts said damage from the storm caught them off guard. By late Wednesday, the floodwaters had started to recede in some areas, though the National Weather Service warned that extensive river flooding would be a concern through the weekend.

Bill Moore, 47, hiked about three kilometres from his home in Gulf Shores, Ala., hoping to retrieve his car stashed inland, away from the coast. Winds tore through a hurricane shutter of his home, smashed one window and collapsed a rooftop skylight.

“It has been a long two days,” he said. “We were trying to evacuate on Tuesday, but it was too late.”

A man, standing outside his home, watches a street flooded by Sally in Pensacola, Fla. The storm barrelled into the U.S. Gulf Coast early Wednesday, causing widespread destruction. (Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)

“It was just constant rain and wind,” said Preity Patel, 41, a resident of Pensacola for two years. “The water drained pretty quickly, thankfully. It’s just cleanup now.”

Pensacola International Airport, which closed Monday as Sally bore down, remains closed. Officials say they need to assess the safety of the runway and its facility before it reopens but gave no timeline for that in a statement Wednesday evening.

The predicted path of former-hurricane Sally. (CBC News)

Another storm brewing 

Sally was the 18th named storm in the Atlantic this year and the eighth of tropical storm or hurricane strength to hit the United States.

A tropical disturbance was brewing in the southern Gulf of Mexico on Thursday that has a 90 per cent chance of becoming a cyclone in the next 48 hours. Two other named storms were in the Atlantic, making this one of the most active Atlantic hurricane seasons on record.

Hurricanes have increased in intensity and destructiveness since the 1980s as the climate has warmed, according to researchers at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“This year we’ve just got hurricane after hurricane,” said Matt Lane, 23, a member of a crew from New Hampshire Electric Co-op, who arrived in the region late on Tuesday directly from Hurricane Laura recovery efforts in Texas.

Oil production shut down

Sally also shut down 508,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil production and 805 million cubic feet of natural gas, more than a quarter of U.S. Gulf of Mexico output, and halted petrochemical exports all along the Gulf Coast.

Bristow Group, which transports oil workers from a Galliano, La., heliport, resumed crew-change flights to facilities in the west and central Gulf of Mexico.

“We are making flights offshore and experiencing a slight increase in outbound passengers,” said heliport manager Lani Moneyhon.

The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, a deepwater oil port that handles supertankers, reopened its marine terminal after suspending operations over the weekend. About 1.1 million bpd of U.S. refining capacity were offline on Wednesday, according to the U.S. Energy Department, including two plants under repair since Hurricane Laura and another halted by weak demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A construction site is seen on the coast hours before Sally made landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast in Pascagoula, Miss. (Chandan Shanna/AFP/Getty Images)

Fuel prices rose again on Thursday as six refineries were offline, and OPEC promised to crack down on members not keeping to production cuts. Gasoline futures rose two per cent to near the high for the month.

Phillips 66, which shut its 255,600-bpd Alliance, La., oil refinery ahead of the storm, said it was advancing planned maintenance at the facility and would keep processing halted.

Royal Dutch Shell’s Mobile, Ala., chemical plant and refinery reported no serious damage from an initial survey, the company said. Chevron said its Pascagoula, Miss., oil refinery operated normally through the storm.

Shell will also keep the crude distillation unit, alkylation unit and reformer shut for at least a week at its 227,400-bpd Norco, La., refinery for short-term maintenance work, sources told Reuters. The units were shut due to the threat from Sally.

WATCH | Florida, Alabama face heavy flooding, wind damage from Hurricane Sally:

Up to a metre of water was recorded in Pensacola, Fla., as the lumbering storm kept pounding the area with heavy rain. 1:03

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