Latest weather wallop: Florida, Alabama flooding

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A vehicle drives through heavy flooding on Thomas Drive during rush hour in Panama City, Fla. on Tuesday, April 29, 2014. (AP Photo/News Herald, Patti Blake)

A vehicle drives through heavy flooding on Thomas Drive during rush hour in Panama City, Fla. on Tuesday, April 29, 2014. (AP Photo/News Herald, Patti Blake)

Larry Smith’s camper shelter near Stedman, N.C., was destroyed after a possible tornado passed by his house Tuesday, April 29, 2014. At least five counties in eastern North Carolina reported tornadoes on Tuesday. (AP Photo/The Fayetteville Observer, James Robinson)

Jones County residents take in the damage Tuesday, April 29, 2014 left behind by a tornado that ripped a path along U.S. 11 North near Sandersville, Miss. Monday, April 28. 2014. (AP Photo/The Hattiesburg American, Kelly Price)

Damage along Sampson Road in Jones County near Sandersville, Miss. is evident Tuesday, April 29, 2014 after a tornado passed through the area Monday night April 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Hattiesburg American, Kelly Price)

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, foreground left, and members of his party dodge debris left after a tornado struck the mobile home where Ray Harvey lives, Tuesday, April 29, 2014 near Stedman, NC. (AP Photo/The Fayetteville Observer, Johnny Horne)


PENSACOLA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — In the latest blow from a dayslong chain of severe weather across the South and Midwest, the Florida Panhandle and Alabama Gulf Coast were hit with widespread flooding early Wednesday, with people stranded in cars and homes waiting for rescuers to find a way around impassable roads and others abandoning vehicles to walk to safety.

Fire rescue crews weren’t able to respond to some calls for help because of road flooding in and around Pensacola, and one woman died when she drove her car into high water, officials said. Boats and jet skis were moved from the beaches to the streets, aerial rescues were planned, and the National Guard sent high-wheeled vehicles.

“It’s gotten to the point where we can’t send EMS and fire rescue crews out on some 911 calls because they can’t get there,” Escambia County spokesman Bill Pearson said. “We’ve had people whose homes are flooding and they’ve had to climb up to the attic.”

Some people left their flooded cars and walked to find help on their own. “We have people at the police department,” Officer Justin Cooper of the Pensacola Police Department said. “They walked up here and are hanging out until things get better.”

As much as 15 to 20 inches had fallen in Pensacola in a 24-hour period, National Weather Service meteorologist Phil Grigsby in New Orleans said Wednesday morning, with a few more inches expected. Grigsby said aerial rescues were planned, and the county moved boats and jet skis from the beaches to the streets to help. A portion of Interstate 10 north of Pensacola and other roads were closed, and Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for 26 counties.

“We’ve seen pictures that people are posting with water halfway up their doors, front doors,” Grigsby said. “It’s going to be a big cleanup, looks like.”

In Pensacola Beach, people woke to violent storms, heavy rain and lightning. Standing water could be seen on many parts of the beach, and a military vehicle made its way through one heavily flooded neighborhood. Pensacola Naval Air Station’s hospital was closed, as was the Air Force Special Operations center at Hurlburt Field.

Paul Schuster made an emergency run about 4 a.m. from Pensacola Beach to his mother’s flooded home in nearby Gulf Breeze. The woman, 82, had to be rescued from by an emergency official in a boat, he said.

“The water was waist high,” he said.

The widespread flooding is the latest wallop of a storm system that still packed considerable punch days after the violent outbreak began in Arkansas and Oklahoma. At least 35 people have been killed in that storms that started Sunday and spread from Oklahoma to North Carolina.

In Gulf Shores, Ala., where nearly 21 inches of rain fell in a day’s time, the scene resembled the aftermath of a hurricane early Wednesday. The intracoastal waterway rose so high it reached the canal road linking the town with neighboring Orange Beach.

At Sportsman Marina in Orange Beach, employee J.J. Andrews couldn’t believe what she saw out the window Wednesday morning.

“We’ve got water up in our parking lots,” she said. “Our docks are under water. It’s worse than during Hurricane Ivan, is what they’re saying. It’s crazy.”

Several Alabama shelters opened for evacuees, but some people had difficulty traveling, with numerous roads south of Interstate 10 flooded. The Department of Transportation said water covered parts of Alabama 59, the main road for beach-bound tourists.

In the inland town of Silverhill, the National Weather Service projected the normally placid Fish River to crest above its all-time high set during Hurricane Danny in 1997.

In Mobile, the emergency management agency estimated that the county had performed a few dozen rescues, mostly of people whose cars were stuck on flooded roads.

“We do have a lot of roads that are still underwater,” Glen Brannan, plans and operations officer for the agency, said Wednesday, but he noted that things were improving, with the worst weather to the east of Mobile, including Gulf Shores.

On the eastern side of Mobile Bay in Baldwin County, crews had been rescuing stranded people since before midnight, said Mitchell Sims, emergency management director.

“As soon as we get a water rescue team in here, they’re sent back out,” he said. “We’re rescuing people from cars, from rooftops, from all over the place.

“I think we’re going to be dealing with this for days. I don’t know where the water’s going to go. Everything is saturated.”

Over the past four days, the storms hit especially hard in places such as Arkansas’ northern Little Rock suburbs and the Mississippi cities of Louisville and Tupelo. Arkansas, with 15 deaths after a tornado blasted through Sunday, and Mississippi with 12



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