Hurricane Sally unleashes flooding along the Gulf Coast

Waves crash near a pier, at Gulf State Park, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Gulf Shores, (AP Photo/Gerald Herbrt)

Hurricane Sally lumbered ashore near the Florida-Alabama line on Wednesday with 105 mph (165) winds and rain measured in feet, not inches, swamping homes and trapping people in high water as it crept inland for what could be a long, slow and disastrous drenching across the Deep South.

Moving at an agonising 3 mph, or about as fast as a person can walk, the storm made landfall at 4:45 a.m. close to Gulf Shores, Alabama, battering nearby Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida, two cities with a combined metropolitan-area population of almost 1 million.

Emergency crew plucked people from flooded homes. In Escambia County, which includes Pensacola, more than 40 were rescued, including a family of four found in a tree, Sheriff David Morgan said.

He estimated thousands more will need to flee rising waters in the coming days. County officials urged residents to stick to text messages for contacting family and friends to keep cellphone service open for 911 calls.

The storm knocked out power to about a half-million homes and businesses.

It was the second hurricane to hit the Gulf Coast in less than three weeks and the latest blow in one of the busiest hurricane seasons ever recorded, so frenetic that forecasters have nearly run through the alphabet of storm names with 2 1/2 months still to go.

Sally blew ashore as a Category 2 storm but weakened to a still-dangerous Category 1, with winds of 80 mph, by mid-morning. Forecasters warned that heavy rain will continue into Thursday as the storm moves inland over Alabama and into central Georgia.

National Hurricane Center forecaster Stacy Stewart said the rain will be “catastrophic and life-threatening” over portions of the Gulf Coast.