LOUISVILLE, Miss. (CBS Tampa/AP) — In the latest blow from a dayslong chain of severe weather across the South and Midwest, the Florida Panhandle and other parts of the Gulf Coast were hit with widespread flooding early Wednesday, with people stranded in cars and homes waiting for rescuers to find a way around impassable roads and others abandoning vehicles to walk to safety.
Fire rescue crews weren’t able to respond to some calls for help because of road flooding in and around Pensacola, Escambia County spokesman Bill Pearson said.
“It’s gotten to the point where we can’t send EMS and fire rescue crews out on some 911 calls because they can’t get there,” Pearson said. “We’ve had people whose homes are flooding and they’ve had to climb up to the attic.”
Some people left their flooded cars and walked to find help on their own. “We have people at the police department,” Officer Justin Cooper of the Pensacola Police Department said. “They walked up here and are hanging out until things get better.”
— N. Jerzy Fire Alert (@NJerzyFireAlert) April 30, 2014
As much as 15 to 20 inches had fallen in Pensacola in a 24-hour period, National Weather Service meteorologist Phil Grigsby in New Orleans said Wednesday morning, with a few more inches expected. Grigsby said aerial rescues were planned, and the county moved boats and jet skis from the beaches to the streets to help. A portion of Interstate 10 was closed.
“We’ve seen pictures that people are posting with water halfway up their doors, front doors,” Grigsby said. “It’s going to be a big cleanup, looks like.”
CBS News reports that one person died in the flash flooding in Pensacola.
The widespread flooding is the latest wallop of a storm system that still packed considerable punch days after the violent outbreak began in Arkansas and Oklahoma. At least 35 people have been killed in that storms that started Sunday and spread from Oklahoma to North Carolina.
In Baldwin County on the Alabama Gulf Coast, crews had been rescuing stranded people since before midnight and some were in shelters Wednesday morning, said Mitchell Sims, emergency management director.
“As soon as we get a water rescue team in here, they’re sent back out,” he said. “We’re rescuing people from cars, from rooftops, from all over the place.
“I think we’re gonna be dealing with this for days,” added Sims, who estimated that 12 to 17 inches of rain had fallen in 24 hours. “I don’t know where the water’s going to go. Everything is saturated.”
Over the past four days, the storms hit especially hard in places such as Arkansas’ northern Little Rock suburbs and the Mississippi cities of Louisville and Tupelo. Arkansas, with 15 deaths after a tornado blasted through Sunday, and Mississippi with 12 deaths from Monday’s storms, accounted for the brunt of the death toll.
“We will overcome this,” Louisville Mayor Will Hill said against a backdrop of hundreds of damaged buildings, including two hilltop churches pounded to rubble. “We’re going to work together.”
Authorities in Louisville searched until dark Tuesday for an 8-year-old boy missing since Monday’s large tornado that killed his parents and destroyed the home where they lived. Though searchers didn’t rule out finding the boy alive, officials were describing the process as one of “recovery.”
After days of storm destruction, some didn’t take any chances late Tuesday with yet more tornado watches.
Simon Turner and her 7-year-old son, Christopher, scrambled to a shelter in Tuscaloosa, Ala., after hearing that a tornado watch had been issued around that city.
Frightened by memories of a killer tornado that partly demolished Tuscaloosa three years ago, the Turners had opted for refuge in a school with a reinforced hallway. “We’ll be here till they say it’s OK to leave,” Turner said before the all-clear came.
The dead Monday included University of Alabama swimmer John Servati, who authorities say took shelter in the basement of a home when a retaining wall collapsed. Servati was a business major on the dean’s list.
Some survived or died amid split-second decisions.
William Quinn, 25, and others dove under the gap beneath a house in Mars Hill, Miss., seconds before a tornado blew heavily damaged the home and sheared off the roofs of nearby poultry houses. He called his decision “a spur of the moment thing.”
But in the southern Tennessee community of Fayetteville, a married couple was killed Monday in a tornado after returning to their mobile home after mistakenly believing the danger had passed, a neighbor said. Authorities identified the victims as John Prince, 60, and his wife Karen, 44.
“We pulled up, and were in shocked seeing our own home. But then we saw Karen’s father, and he said ‘John and Karen are gone — They didn’t make it,'” recalled neighbor Tiffani Danner. She had left and came back to find her own home destroyed as well.
Darrell Haney, in a home nearby, thought that community was out of the woods when TV switched from tornado warnings back to regular programming — then suddenly cut back to a possible tornado.
Haney quickly plucked up two grandchildren and huddled in a bathroom with his wife, daughter and son-in-law. Almost immediately, he said, a tree crashed into a front room where one of the children had been sleeping. The roof was lifted off of the master bedroom.
“The house is being torn apart around you, and we’re just crying out, ‘God protect us,'” Haney said. “Because at that point you’re totally hopeless and helpless.”
Elsewhere, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe visited several homes Tuesday that were damaged by a deadly twister, stopping at one location where three members of a family were killed. Three of Arkansas’ 15 deaths were a father and two daughters and Beebe spoke to survivors, including two of the man’s other daughters.
“It was kind of heartbreaking those two little girls that I talked to that lost two of their siblings and their dad,” Beebe said afterward. “That’s utter destruction up there … and these people need to know that folks care about them.”
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