Tropical storm Sally strengthens into hurricane, U.S. Gulf Coast braces for landfall

Tropical storm Sally strengthens into hurricane, U.S. Gulf Coast braces for landfall

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Mississippi coast residents Kim Miller and Monty Graham fill sandbags Sunday in preparation for Hurricane Sally, which was predicted to make landfall Tuesday. (Alyssa Newton/The Sun Herald/The Associated Press)

Storm-weary Gulf Coast residents prepared for a new weather onslaught as tropical storm Sally strengthened into a hurricane on Monday. 

As of 12:20 p.m. ET, the hurricane was located about 220 kilometres east-southeast of the Mouth of the Mississippi River, with maximum sustained winds of 140 km/h, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. 

Jeffrey Gagnard of Chalmette, La., was spending Sunday in Mississippi helping his parents prepare their home for Sally — and making sure they safely evacuated ahead of the storm.

“I mean, after Katrina, anything around here and anything on the water, you’re going to take serious,” he said as he loaded the back of his SUV with cases of bottled water in a grocery store parking lot in Waveland, Miss. “You can’t take anything lightly.”

Gagnard said he planned to head back across the state line to prepare his own home for the winds and rain Sally was expected to bring to the New Orleans area.

Forecasters from the NHC in Miami expected Sally to reach shore by early Tuesday, bringing dangerous weather conditions, including risk of flooding, to a region stretching from the western Florida Panhandle to southeast Louisiana.

“I know for a lot of people this storm seemed to come out of nowhere,” said Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards. “We need everybody to pay attention to this storm. Let’s take this one seriously.”

Edwards urged people to prepare for the storm immediately. He also said there are still many from southwestern Louisiana who evacuated from Hurricane Laura into New Orleans — exactly the area that could be hit by Sally, which is a slow-moving storm.

‘Trying to stay calm’

In Mandeville, a city about 56 kilometres north of New Orleans, resident Chris Yandle had purchased a week’s worth of groceries and moved all his patio furniture into his family’s house in preparation for the storm.

“I’m mostly trying to stay calm — especially with a family of four and a dog to worry about,” Yandle said. “I’ve lived through many hurricanes growing up in Louisiana, but I haven’t felt this anxious about a hurricane in my life.”

Mississippi officials warned that the storm was expected to coincide with high tide, leading to significant storm surge.

“It needs to be understood by all of our friends in the coastal region and in south Mississippi that if you live in low-lying areas, the time to get out is early tomorrow morning,” Gov. Tate Reeves said late Sunday.

Damaging winds, dangerous storm surge

In Waveland, Miss., Joey Chauvin used rope to tie down a tall wooden post topped with a statue of a pelican that serves as a marker at the driveway leading to his weekend camp.

He said a matching pelican marker on the opposite side of the driveway was washed away in tropical storm Cristobal earlier this summer. That storm pushed more than one metre of water into the area.

“If this one hits the coast as a Cat 2, I’m thinking we’re gonna have at least six to seven feet of water where we’re standing at,” Chauvin said. “So, yeah, we’re definitely not going to stay.”

Pensacola, on Florida’s Panhandle, was bracing for 25 to 38 centimetres of rain. Sally could produce as much as 61 centimetres of rain by the middle of the week, forecasters said.

This satellite photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows Sally churning north toward the Gulf Coast of the U.S. (NOAA/The Associated Press)

“That system is forecast to bring not only damaging winds but a dangerous storm surge,” said Daniel Brown of the NHC. “Because it’s slowing down, it could produce a tremendous amount of rainfall over the coming days.”

For only the second time in recorded history, there are five tropical cyclones churning in the Atlantic basin, meteorologist Philip Klotzbach said.

The entire island of Bermuda, where homes are built to withstand major hurricanes, was inside the eye of Hurricane Paulette on Monday morning. Once a tropical storm, Rene was forecast to become a remnant low Monday. Teddy became a tropical storm Monday morning, and forecasters said it was expected to become a hurricane later in the week. 

Meanwhile, tropical depression 21 has strengthened into storm Vicky in the Atlantic and is expected to be short lived with its weakening to begin around Tuesday night, NHC said on Monday.

The system is located about 565 kilometres west-northwest of the Cape Verde Islands, packing maximum sustained winds of 75 km/h.

A mandatory evacuation has already been issued in Grand Isle, La., ahead of Sally. On Saturday, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell issued a mandatory evacuation order for Orleans Parish residents living outside of the parish’s levee protection system.

All northern Gulf Coast states are urging residents to prepare.

“It is likely that this storm system will be impacting Alabama’s Gulf Coast,” said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey. “While it is currently not being predicted as a direct hit to our coastal areas, we know well that we should not take the threat lightly.” 

She urged residents to prepare and stay informed of the storm’s path in the coming days.

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