PENSACOLA BEACH, Fla. – People were plucked off rooftops or climbed into their attics to get away from fast-rising waters when nearly 2 feet of rain fell on the Florida Panhandle and Alabama coast in the span of about 24 hours, the latest bout of severe weather that began with tornadoes in the Midwest.
On Wednesday, roads were chewed up into pieces or wiped out entirely and neighborhoods were inundated, making rescues difficult for hundreds of people who called for help when they were caught off guard by the single rainiest day ever recorded in Pensacola.
Boats and Humvees zigzagged through the flooded streets to help stranded residents. A car and truck plummeted 25 feet when portions of a scenic highway collapsed, and one Florida woman died when she drove her car into high water, officials said.
In Alabama, Capt. David Spies of Fish River/Marlow Fire and Rescue said he was part of a team who found two women and a young boy trapped in the attic of a modular home.
Spies said they received the first call of help before midnight Tuesday but they couldn’t find the group until about 8 a.m. Wednesday. By then, the water was 2 feet below the roof. A firefighter used an ax to punch a hole through the roof and free them.
“They were very scared, they were very upset. I would’ve been, too,” Spies said.
There were at least 30 rescues near Mobile, Alabama. Florida appeared to be the hardest hit. Gov. Rick Scott said officials there received about 300 calls from residents.
At the Pensacola airport, 15.55 inches of rain fell Tuesday before midnight, setting a record for the rainiest single day in the city, according to data since 1880. By comparison, the airport in drought-stricken Los Angeles has recorded 15.9 inches of rain since Jan. 1, 2012.
Pensacola and nearby Mobile are two of the rainiest cities in the U.S., averaging more than 5 feet of rain in a year, according to the National Climatic Data Center.
The widespread flooding was the latest wallop from a violent storm system that began in Arkansas and Oklahoma and worked its way south, killing 37 people along the way.
Over the past four days, the system created 65 tornadoes and slammed Arkansas’ northern Little Rock suburbs and the Mississippi cities of Louisville and Tupelo. Arkansas had 15 deaths; Mississippi had 12.