Severe weather deluged the Southeast with flooding on Wednesday as days of fierce storms continued to lash the nation, forcing emergency water rescues in Pensacola, Fla., and Gulf Shores, Ala., where more than 20 inches of rain fell in a day's time.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday declared a state of emergency for more than two dozen counties in the Panhandle and Big Bend regions because of heavy rain that shut down highways and created rivers where streams used to be. The threat of flash flooding existed from Florida through the eastern states and even into parts of upstate New York as the driving rain system moved through.
"The NWS Storm Prediction Center is forecasting a risk of severe thunderstorms Wednesday afternoon & evening from the central Appalachians and Mid-Atlantic across the coastal Southeast to the Florida Panhandle," the National Weather Service said. "Damaging wind gusts and large hail will be the main threats. Meanwhile, flash flooding will be possible across a large swath of the eastern U.S., from southern New England to the Gulf Coast."
The latest storms come on the heels of strong winds, hail, driving thunderstorms and tornadoes that ripped through Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi leaving about 35 dead and damaging houses, vehicles and roads. Those states, along with Florida, will be seeking federal aid. In Washington, the Mississippi congressional delegation formally backed its state's bid for federal aid on Wednesday.
The floodwaters around Pensacola, Fla., hindered rescue efforts, Scott told a news conference Wednesday. Officials received about 300 calls for evacuation in the Pensacola area and had completed about 210, the governor said. About 30,000 residents were without power.
About 22 inches of rain had fallen by midmorning in Pensacola, with more expected, officials said. That works out to about a third of the average annual rainfall falling in just one day.
In Gulf Shores, Ala., where nearly 21 inches of rain fell in a day's time, the scene resembled the aftermath of a hurricane. The intracoastal waterway rose, reaching the canal road linking the town with neighboring Orange Beach, where J.J. Andrews, an employee at the Sportsman Marina, said she was shocked.
"We've got water up in our parking lots," she told the Associated Press. "Our docks are under water. It's worse than during Hurricane Ivan, is what they're saying. It's crazy."
Arkansas bore the brunt of the tornado outbreak on Sunday with at least 15 deaths, most of which were in Livonia. Mississippi reported 12 deaths on Monday, related to the weather and tornadoes.