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Hurricane Warnings Are Up From Southeast Louisiana To Florida's Panhandle

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Here on the West Coast, we're dealing with wildfires. On the Gulf Coast and southeastern United States, it is hurricanes that are the concern. There are four storms right now brewing in the Atlantic basin. Communities along the Gulf of Mexico are bracing for Hurricane Sally. It is forecast to make landfall either late today or overnight somewhere near the Alabama-Mississippi state line. And we have NPR's Debbie Elliott with us from Orange Beach, Ala. Debbie, good morning to you. And...

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: ...Are you feeling the effects of Sally already?

ELLIOTT: Yeah. We're starting to feel the outer bands of the hurricane, basically gusty winds and waves of heavy rain that come in intermittently. Bay waters have been rising since yesterday and have overtopped some piers and flooded some roadways in and around my neighborhood. I spent some time yesterday over in Gulf Shores, Ala., at the public beach where people were watching as the storm was approaching. There were a good many sightseers. Mary Bell (ph) was on vacation from Tennessee and was really amazed to watch and see how fast the water was coming up.

MARY BELL: Well, the surf is churning. And we watched the levels rise, coming closer on the beach and places where the water has gone and made its own little canal through - between the condos.

ELLIOTT: Now, Sally is a very large hurricane. It's just offshore. And the effects are being felt along a really wide stretch of the U.S. Gulf Coast from - all the way from the mouth of the Mississippi River into the Florida panhandle.

GREENE: I remember doing that myself, standing on the beach as a hurricane is approaching. And then you want to stop doing the sightseeing (laughter) at some point...

ELLIOTT: Right.

GREENE: ...And come inside. I guess I wonder, I mean, do you get the sense that people are taking Sally seriously enough?

ELLIOTT: You know, I think they are and, certainly, officials are. The Gulf states have all declared states of emergency, those who were in the path of Sally. Low-lying communities have evacuated. That includes, like, the barrier islands off of Louisiana. And in the New Orleans metro area, people who live outside that elaborate new levee protection system have been ordered to evacuate.

The National Guard is ready to help respond as needed. All along the Gulf Coast, it seems like people have been trying to secure their property and prepare ahead of the storm. Here in Orange Beach yesterday, owner David Schwartz had a couple of workers with him. And they were putting up aluminum storm shutters on the front of his restaurant, Doc's Seafood. It's just across the road from the roiling Gulf of Mexico.

DAVID SCHWARTZ: I'm not really worried about wind or anything. I'm worried about storm surge. This water will come through here and sweep this place away like it was never here. And it's just scary when you think about it.

GREENE: God, he thinks it could just literally wipe away his business. I mean, how bad could the storm surge get in the storm? Is that the big threat we're talking about?

ELLIOTT: That is the big threat according to forecasters, as well as flooding. The storm surge could be up to nine feet in some places. That's essentially a wall of water moving ashore with this destructive force. Flash flooding of streams and rivers are likely and then rain. Sally is really a soaker. Forecasters say prepare for historic flooding. It's been dumping rain on Florida for days now. Forecasters say some places could get up to two feet of rain. That's a significant flood risk well inland. And what's making it even worse is that Sally is just creeping along. It's moving really slowly. So this rain is just going to pile up.

GREENE: Now, we should say, this is an S-named storm, Sally. I mean, that means we are through a lot of hurricanes even though this is a season that could last through the end of November. I mean, can you put this hurricane season in perspective?

ELLIOTT: Yeah. It's really been something. If you just look at Louisiana, for instance, there's still 18,000 people displaced from Hurricane Laura. And now this.

GREENE: NPR's Debbie Elliott awaiting Hurricane Sally. Thanks so much, Deb.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.