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Slow-moving Hurricane Sally dumps dozens of inches of rain on Gulf Coast

Hurricane Sally has weakened since striking the Alabama-Florida state line before dawn Wednesday -- but it is still inflicting major damage. The storm is moving at a glacial pace, dumping more than 20 inches of rain in some areas, downing trees and leaving homes and streets flooded. In Pensacola, a portion of the massive Three Mile Bridge collapsed in high winds. Stephanie Sy reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's been a long and damaging day along much of the U.S. Gulf Coast, with hundreds of flooded homes, plus broken bridges and rain by the bucketful.

    Hurricane Sally has weakened since it struck the Alabama-Florida state line before dawn. But major damage is piling up.

    Stephanie Sy has our report.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Waves of swollen waters crashed onto Southern shores. Hurricane Sally hit the Gulf Coast this morning as a Category 2 storm, and is moving forward at a glacial pace.

    In Mobile, Alabama, winds of up to 105 miles per hour swept through empty streets…

  • Man:

    There it goes.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    … and downed trees in backyards near the state border with Florida.

  • Child:

    Holy moly.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    In Pensacola, Florida, a portion of the massive Three Mile Bridge collapsed in the high winds, apparently after a crane crashed onto the roadway.

  • Man:

    It's pretty windy. Blow you over.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Residents like Trent Airhart were left to wade through knee-high water as rainfall reached 20 inches, and kept coming.

    The storm grew rapidly last weekend into hurricane force as it made its way past Southern Florida and up the Gulf of Mexico. Climate scientists have found evidence that hurricanes are intensifying more rapidly, while producing more rain and stalling, and they have linked those impacts to human-caused climate change.

    Ken Graham at the National Hurricane Center says Sally illustrates the potential damage.

  • Ken Graham:

    When you get a slow-moving storm, it just compounds the issues. It's longer to be able to put that rain down on the ground, longer to push that storm surge in.

    So, the combination of the rainfall and storm surge, when it's a slow-moving storm, you just have the opportunity to put torrential, dangerous rainfall down on the ground, leading to significant flash flooding. In fact, with tropical systems historically, 90 percent of the fatalities in tropical systems is from the water.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Officials in Alabama and Mississippi had urged residents in flood-prone areas to get out. But some ignored the evacuation orders.

    Park Painter of Fish River says he's endured false alarms before.

  • Park Painter:

    A lot of times, there's hurricanes, and they don't end up hitting as bad as people say they will. So, I guess everyone's thinking it's going to be like that again, and then everyone just packed up and left last-minute.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    The storm's slow speed also made its path less predictable. Meteorologists forecast it would hit Biloxi, Mississippi, but that changed last night, sparing the city.

    Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich told the "PBS NewsHour" he's relieved.

  • Andrew “FoFo” Gilich:

    It had been right on your throat, right on our backyard. And we would have a lot of issues, which would include the downed trees, the downed power, those — even the communications, which is always a big thing.

    But I am relieved that people are back at work this morning.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Hurricane Sally's lashing of the Gulf Coast comes just three weeks after Hurricane Laura hit with deadly force.

    This Atlantic hurricane season has been among the most active on record, with some 20 named systems so far.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Stephanie Sy.

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