Hurricane Sally made landfall near Gulf Shores, Alabama in the early hours of Wednesday morning as a Category 2, bringing a storm surge and more than 2 feet (60cm) of rain.
The northern eyewall brought hurricane-strength winds across the Gulf coast from Pensacola Beach in Florida through to Dauphin Island, Alabama.
Almost 650,000 customers are without power across three states.
The slow speed of the system, moving at just 3mph, and the amount of rain falling, could seriously exacerbate flooding, which is already widespread across the region. A flash flood emergency remains in place until 5.30pm CDT and people are advised to not travel unless fleeing an area subject to flooding.
Pensacola, Florida, currently has between three and four feet of water in its streets and more rainfall is expected. Much of downtown is impassable, and part of the brand-new Three Mile Bridge to the city of Gulf Breeze is now “missing,” according to the National Weather Service (NWS) forecast office in Mobile. A barge has reportedly also struck the bridge.
FEMA has pre-positioned more than 1.8 million meals and 1.5 million bottles of water in response to the hurricane.
It is the eighth named storm to reach landfall on American shores this year, reportedly breaking a 104-year old record last set when seven storms landed in 1916’s storm season.
Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the National Hurricane Centre, said Sally was a rare storm that could make history.
“Sally has a characteristic that isn’t often seen and that’s a slow forward speed and that’s going to exacerbate the flooding,” he said, likening the storm’s slow progression to that of Hurricane Harvey, which swamped Houston in 2017.
Images of the damage and flooding have been emerging throughout the morning.