Mandatory or voluntary evacuations are underway and shelters open from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle as four states brace for Hurricane Sally.
“I think that it’s very important that people really pay close attention to this system and not focus on what category of storm that it may be,” Jenni Guerry, deputy director of emergency management in Baldwin County, Alabama, told weather.com in a phone interview Monday night. “Each and every storm is very unique and we are expecting some very significant, historical flooding and rainfall amounts with this system.”
Residents in parts of the county have been advised to evacuate.
Emergency officials in Dauphin Island, Alabama, had to pick up about a dozen people stranded as sand and ocean water began to inundate part of the island Monday ahead of Hurricane Sally.
Mayor Jeff Collier said emergency officials drove a Humvee to pick up 12 to 15 people, including an infant, the Associated Press reported.
At least four cars were lost.
“We weren’t able to move the vehicles, they were already stuck in the sand,” Collier said.
(MORE: Forecast Track for Hurricane Sally)
Preparations took on a sense of urgency Monday as Sally strengthened into a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.
“My message to my fellow citizens is this: If you’re in a flood-prone area, go ahead and get out now,” Pascagoula, Mississippi, Mayor Steve Demetropolous told The Weather Channel. “Go stay with friends or family or go stay at a hotel, but get out now. If you have a chance of being flooded, please don’t stay at home.”
Sally is expected to bring life-threatening storm surge and flooding rain when it makes landfall, possibly as a Category 2 storm, overnight Tuesday into Wednesday morning.
President Donald Trump approved disaster declarations for Louisiana and Mississippi. Governors of both states declared emergencies over the weekend.
Here are some of the steps states are taking to prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Sally.
“Right now, I’m doing what everybody else that has any sense would do,” said Al Ward as he stocked up on propane Sunday at a hardware store in Gulfport, Mississippi. “I’m being prepared for the worst and hoping it will be as it has been earlier this year. We dodged the bullet.”
Ward told WLOX-TV he has dealt with a hurricane every year since moving to the coast.
“If you want to enjoy the pleasures of what’s down here in South Mississippi, there are hazards that go with it as well,” he said.
(MORE: Full List of Evacuation Orders Ahead of Sally)
Ward was one of many in south Mississippi preparing for Sally’s arrival.
The Mississippi Gaming Commission ordered the 12 casinos in the state to close Monday evening.
Evacuation shelters opened in Jackson, Hancock, Harrison, Pearl River and Stone counties.
In a briefing Monday morning, Gov. Tate Reeves said, “Over the last 18 hours, a lot has changed.”
Reeves said Sally, instead of making landfall in Louisiana, was now projected to hit Biloxi, Mississippi.
“The slowing of the storm is concerning,” Reeves said. “The longer it stays out in the Gulf of Mexico, the higher the likelihood is it continues to grow in size and scope and severity.”
Hancock County Emergency Management issued a mandatory evacuation beginning at 7 a.m. Monday “for all low lying areas, residents living on rivers, river inlets, bayous, creeks and in travel trailers.” Also, modular homes, mobile homes, homes under construction and/or partially constructed homes were under evacuation orders.
Harrison County ordered mandatory evacuations “south of the Harrison County Sand Beach sea wall, including the 26 miles of Harrison County Sand Beach, as well as low-lying areas” in the county.
Jackson County asked residents in low-lying areas to evacuate voluntarily. The request applied to people who live along rivers, river inlets, bayous, creeks, and in travel trailers, modular homes, mobile homes and homes under construction.
Officials in Pascagoula, Long Beach, Gulfport, Pass Christian and Biloxi told boat owners to move their vessels out of city marinas and harbors, WLOX reported.
(MORE: Hurricane Sally Tracker)
Many schools along the coast announced they would dismiss students early Monday or close altogether. Districts that planned to close included Hancock County, Bay Waveland and Long Beach.
Officials in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties set up sandbag stations, WXXV-TV reported.
Rupert Lacy, Harrison County emergency management director, said U.S. Highway 90 will become impassable after sunset Monday into Tuesday and Wednesday, the Biloxi Sun Herald reported.
Lacy also said water will back up into the Bay of Biloxi, Bay of St. Louis and area rivers, lakes and low-lying areas.
Gulf Islands National Seashore closed islands and mainland areas of the national park in Florida and Mississippi because of Sally. The Davis Bayou Area and Mississippi islands including Petit Bois, West Petit Bois, Horn, Ship, and the NPS-owned portion of Cat Island closed at 5 p.m. Saturday. Campers at the Davis Bayou campground were told to evacuate by 9 a.m. Sunday.
In Baldwin County, on the southeast shore of Mobile Bay, the voluntary evacuations include communities along the Gulf of Mexico like Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, as well as vulnerable inland areas.
Up to 24 inches of rain could fall in some parts of the county, according to the National Hurricane Center. Guerry said winds, high waves and storm surge are also concerns.
“Those are conditions that are extremely serious and we want to make sure that people take the measures to make sure that they keep themselves and their family safe,” Guerry said.
The county opened a shelter but officials said it should only be used as a “last resort,” according to al.com. Two shelters also opened in Mobile County.
Gov. Kate Ivey declared a state of emergency for Alabama on Monday morning.
“Those on the Gulf Coast know a flood and heavy rains can be just as deadly as tropical winds,” Ivey said.
The governor closed all the state’s beaches effective at 3 p.m. Monday, and she recommended evacuations for all residents of flood-prone areas south of Interstate 10 and for all non-residents.
Mobile County public schools and Gulf Shores City schools closed Monday, WALA-TV reported. The University of South Alabama moved Monday and Tuesday classes online.
The Baldwin County Commission had an emergency meeting Monday morning to discuss preparations for Sally.
(WATCH: Why Slow-Moving Tropical Systems Are the Worst)
On Dauphin Island, Collier told residents to be ready for the storm.
“Once the conditions change, you don’t have a chance to tweak your plan, so we just need to go ahead and be prepared for the worst-case scenario, and then as they say hope for the best,” Collier said.
Monday morning, Collier announced on his Facebook page that flooding was already happening on the west end of Dauphin Island.
Gulf Shores lifeguards closed the waters to the public Sunday night because of the high risk of rip currents, WALA reported.
Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for Escambia and Santa Rosa counties in the Florida Panhandle.
Voluntary evacuations were issued for parts of Escambia County, including Perdido Key and Pensacola Beach. The Pensacola Bay Center was being opened as a shelter.
Santa Rosa County and Escambia County schools closed Monday because of Sally, the Pensacola News Journal reported.
The two counties could see 10 to 20 inches of rain through Wednesday.
The University of West Florida announced all of its in-person classes are either going fully remote or are canceled from noon Monday through Tuesday. Pensacola State College also closed Monday.
In Pensacola, the county seat of Escambia, the mayor declared a state of emergency on Monday.
In New Orleans, the mayor issued a mandatory evacuation order for residents living outside of the parish’s levee protection system: Venetian Isle, Irish Bayou and Lake Catherine. Those areas could see storm surge of 7 to 9 feet, the National Weather Service said.
The city’s Sewerage and Water Board said all 99 of the city’s drainage pumps are available for service. The other two were under repair and expected to be up and running ahead of any potential impacts from the storm.
The town of Grand Isle, Louisiana, on a tiny barrier island in the Gulf, also issued a mandatory evacuation order to begin at 9 a.m. Sunday. Mayor David Camardelle already had asked campers, RVs and boats to leave the island beginning at 8 a.m. Sunday.
Mandatory evacuations were ordered in the Jean Lafitte area of Jefferson Parish, too, including Barataria and Crown Point.
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Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency over the weekend.
All of Jefferson’s 192 drainage pumps are operating, Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng said Sunday.
“What happened in the past doesn’t matter,” Lee Sheng said at a news conference. “We handle every threat the same … You can’t say, ‘I’m tired of this, I don’t want to do it.’ It doesn’t matter what kind of year we’ve had … we still have a major threat in front of us.”
Mandatory evacuations were ordered in St. John the Baptist Parish for Pleasure Bend and low-lying areas of the parish north of Interstate 10 in LaPlace, including Frenier, Peavine and Manchac. A voluntary evacuation order is in place for the rest of the parish.
Plaquemines Parish ordered mandatory evacuations for the entire East Bank of the parish and on the West Bank from Phillips 66 Alliance Refinery to Venice. A voluntary evacuation is in place from the community of Oakville to the Phillips 66 Alliance Refinery.
President Matthew Jewell ordered a mandatory evacuation for all St. Charles Parish residents, saying Sally could cause widespread power outages and cut off the availability of crucial and emergency services.
“We want residents to heed our warnings and make preparations to leave now,” Jewell said Sunday.
(WATCH: What the NHC Director Had to Say About Sally)
A mandatory evacuation is in effect south of the Leon Theriot Lock in Golden Meadow and all low-lying areas of Lafourche.
Several parishes announced schools would be closed Monday and Tuesday, including Jefferson, Lafourche, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist and Terrebonne parishes. In Orleans Parish, all Monday courses will be delivered online. No face-to-face courses will meet on campus on Monday. All Tuesday classes (in-person, online and hybrid) are canceled.
Loyola University will have classes Monday until 4 p.m. but will be closed Tuesday. The University of Holy Cross, Nunez Community College and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary all plan to close.
The Louisiana National Guard tweeted that more than 1,200 soldiers and airmen along with 51 high-water vehicles, 32 boats, eight helicopters and two engineer work teams were being deployed in southeast Louisiana in preparation for Sally.
Sally arrives less than three weeks after Hurricane Laura came ashore in Louisiana as a Category 4 storm on Aug. 27.
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