PENSACOLA, Fla. — Downtown Pensacola, just to the east of where Hurricane Sally made landfall early Wednesday, was among the hardest-hit coastal areas, with residents waking up to streets that had become rivers and lakes, even more than a mile north of Escambia Bay.
Steven Gray, a professional photographer who lives in the Long Hollow neighborhood, went to bed, like most, expecting that the city would be spared any serious impacts.
“I honestly didn’t expect that we’d get the eye of the storm so close to us,” Gray said. “I heard midday yesterday it was going to hit Biloxi. Then, last night, I heard it was taking a hard turn east.”
He was awakened when his building lost power about 4 a.m. and walked to the front door to investigate. Gray’s home is built into a hillside, about 10 feet above the street beneath. Peering out the window and down the block, he could see cars submerged and power lines downed.
About two blocks away, Gray’s ex-wife, Annie, was receiving a much ruder awakening. She had moved into her apartment, in a lower-lying area, just two months before and had just finished furnishing it the prior week.
“I woke up in about a foot and a half of water,” she said. “Water was bubbling up through my kitchen floor and rushing in under the front door.”
She dialed 911 but could not get through to anyone. So she called her ex-husband. Steven waded into the deluge in an attempt to rescue Annie and her six-month old kitten, Fitz, before being forced back by rising floodwater.
“When I started to wade across, it got neck deep pretty quickly,” he said. “It was at least five feet of water.”
By the time Steven was forced to turn back, the weight of the water kept Annie from opening her front door. She grabbed Fitz, crawled out a window and took refuge in an upstairs neighbor's apartment while the storm raged.
By 9:30 a.m. the water was starting to recede, and it was clear that the damage was catastrophic. At a midmorning news conference, Escambia County officials said emergency rescue teams had been deployed across the county. Boat teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Coast Guard, along with civilian volunteers, were en route to help with the rescue operations.
In Escambia Bay, an entire section was missing from the newly constructed Three Mile Bridge after a state contractors’ construction barge was torn loose from its moorings and collided with the structure. A crane had fallen on another section of the bridge, and a second barge was carried 10 miles west, where it washed ashore on the 18th hole of the golf course at the Pensacola Country Club.