NAVARRE BEACH, Fla. — Heavy rain and pounding surf driven by Hurricane Sally hit the Florida and Alabama coasts Tuesday as forecasters expected the slow-moving storm to dump continuous deluges before and after landfall, possibly triggering dangerous, historic flooding along the northern Gulf Coast.
"It's going to be a huge rainmaker," said Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist and meteorologist at Colorado State University. "It's not going to be pretty."
The National Hurricane Center expected Sally to remain a Category 1 hurricane, with top sustained winds of 80 mph (130 kph) at landfall late Tuesday or early Wednesday. The storm's sluggish pace made it harder to predict exactly where its center will strike.
The hurricane's slow movement exacerbated the threat of heavy rain and storm surge. Sally remained dangerous even after losing power, its fiercest winds having dropped considerably from a peak of 100 mph (161 kph) on Monday.
Tuesday evening, hurricane warnings stretched from east of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, to Navarre, Florida. Rainfall of up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) was forecast near the coast. There was a chance the storm could also spawn tornadoes and dump isolated rain accumulations of 30 inches (76 centimeters).
Heavy rain and surf pounded the barrier island of Navarre Beach, Florida, on Tuesday afternoon and road signs wobbled in the gusty wind. Rebecca Studstill was among those watching. Studstill, who lives inland, was wary of getting stuck on the island, saying police close bridges once the wind and water get too high. "Just hunkering down would probably be the best thing for folks out here," she said.
Two large casino boats broke loose Tuesday from a dock where they were undergoing construction work in Bayou La Batre, Alabama. M.J. Bosarge, who lives near the shipyard, said at least one of the riverboats had done considerable damage to the dock.
"You really want to get them secured because with wind and rain like this, the water is constantly rising," Bosarge said. "They could end up anywhere. There's no telling where they could end up."
In Orange Beach, Alabama, towering waves crashed onshore Tuesday as Crystal Smith and her young
daughter, Taylor, watched. They drove more than an hour through sheets of rain and whipping wind to take in the sight.