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Hurricane Sally Nears Northern Gulf Coast

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Hurricane Sally has spent much of the day dumping a torrent of rain on the Florida Panhandle and southern Alabama. The storm has moved very little. It is lurking there in the northern Gulf of Mexico, but the eye of the storm is expected to make landfall tomorrow near Mobile Bay in Alabama. NPR's Debbie Elliott joins us now from Gulf Shores, Ala.

Hey there, Deb.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So Gulf Shores - am I right in guessing it is like it sounds, directly on the Gulf?

ELLIOTT: It is. It is.

KELLY: And what does it look like? What does it sound like? What does it feel like there right now?

ELLIOTT: Well, the winds have really gotten steadily stronger this evening. At times, it makes the rain even blow horizontally. There has been some significant coastal flooding when I've been able to get out and look around but not much. It's a combination of water that's sort of rising from the Gulf and the back bays, and it's pushing inland. And then you have the inundation of rainfall that has nowhere to go. That's put water over roads in several areas. There have also been some intermittent and scattered power outages. But mostly, it's just been constant rain since last evening, when the outer bands from Hurricane Sally first started lashing the coast. This is a really big storm. It stretches out far from its little unorganized eye, so the same thing is now happening over in the Florida Panhandle and then west into Mississippi.

KELLY: OK, so a big storm - and what is the latest on where exactly it's headed? The track has shifted east toward landfall in Alabama. It was looking like Louisiana, but now it's heading east. What's the latest?

ELLIOTT: Well, the track now has the storm pretty much shooting straight up into Mobile Bay, according to John De Block with the National Weather Service. But he says because Sally has spent the last 24 hours meandering out there in the Gulf not really moving quickly at all, landfall could be delayed, which means more rain in the meantime. Here's how he described the hurricane's movement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN DE BLOCK: Drifting to the north at the speed of a child in a candy shop - about two to three miles per hour. And that's going to take a while to get to the coast. And we're looking at about tomorrow morning now, a little bit later than we had been talking about earlier.

KELLY: And what is the biggest worry, Deb, the biggest threat as landfall nears?

ELLIOTT: You know, early on, it was winds, but that's no longer the case. Now it is flooding. The National Hurricane Center calls it life-threatening inundation. Because Hurricane Sally has been so sluggish, that means rain is just piling up in its wake. Forecasters now saying up to 30 inches could fall in some places and then a six-foot storm surge on top of that. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey urged people to take it very seriously.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAY IVEY: Hurricane Sally is not to be taken for granted. We are looking at record flooding perhaps breaking historic levels. And with rising water comes a greater risk for loss of property and life.

ELLIOTT: So high-water vehicles and swift water rescue teams have been staged in order to respond. Bridges to barrier islands have been closed. Businesses are pretty much boarded up and shut down as are ports. Emergency companies have even evacuated offshore oil and gas rigs and platforms out in the Gulf of Mexico.

KELLY: I mean, Deb, 2020 has been - it's been a year for all of us, you know, from the pandemic to the protests to the wildfires and where you are - this very active hurricane season. Just give us some perspective here on what kind of year this has been for the Gulf area.

ELLIOTT: You know, it's certainly stretching emergency resources with everything happening at once. It's just so much harder to figure out what to do. How do you shelter people, for instance, in a way that won't spread COVID? Louisiana recently used hotels to house people who were displaced by Hurricane Laura, which just devastated southwest Louisiana. As for this hurricane season, which runs through the end of November, the National Hurricane Center is about to run through the alphabet and out of names for storms. Tropical Storms Teddy and Vicky are lurking far out in the Atlantic right now. Soon, forecasters will have to turn to the Greek alphabet to name storms, and that's only happened once before in 2005.

KELLY: NPR's Debbie Elliott reporting there from Gulf Shores, Ala.

Thank you. Stay safe.

ELLIOTT: Thanks, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.