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Hurricane Sally floods Gulf Coast, closes airfields

NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this true-color image of the United States on Sep. 15, 2020, showing the fires in the West, the smoke from those fires drifting over the country, several hurricanes converging from different angles, and Hurricane Sally making landfall. Red points in the west note areas that are significantly higher in temperature than the areas around it and are indicative of fires. Image courtesy of NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS).

The scope of the damage was still being assessed on September 17, with widespread flooding the primary problem for many communities. The hurricane strengthened to Category 2 and came ashore near Gulf Shores, Alabama, packing 105-mph winds. Early reports from the region indicated that wind damage was more limited than water damage. More than 400 people had been rescued from flooded homes and vehicles. A notam search of the region found five airports (including military airfields) were listed as partially or fully closed on September 17. Jack Edwards National Airport in Gulf Shores was not among them, though several navigation aids and obstruction lights were listed out of service. AOPA was unable to reach airport or FBO personnel by phone for more information.

A few miles to the east, Pensacola International Airport in Florida was closed except to search-and-rescue operations, according to notams. Widespread flooding in Pensacola inundated neighborhoods, according to media reports. Homes and businesses had been severely damaged, a major bridge across Pensacola Bay was knocked out by the storm, and a replica of the Niña, one of Christopher Columbus’s ships, had vanished from its berth on the waterfront.

The storm’s damage footprint extended into Mississippi, where Trent Lott International Airport was closed until September 18, according to another notam. Destin Executive Airport, elevation 23 feet, in Destin, Florida, was also closed, as were the Naval Air Station Pensacola, home of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, and Hurlburt Field, a U.S. Air Force facility in Mary Esther, Florida. Several other airports reported various navigation aids and other facilities out of service.

The U.S. Coast Guard and National Guard dispatched boat teams and personnel to assist with rescue and recovery efforts in Pensacola on Thursday. The remnants of the storm, downgraded to a tropical depression, continued to dump water on Alabama and Georgia. Power outages were also widespread, with about 287,000 customers without power in Alabama, and another 220,000 outages reported in Florida, according to media reports, prompting the National Weather Service to issue warnings about the proper use of generators. At least seven people died of carbon monoxide poisoning from generators after Hurricane Laura lashed Louisiana in August.

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