Hurricane Sally: Routes to Pensacola coastal communities closing as winds pick up speed
The Pensacola Bay Bridge was closed Tuesday morning as wind and rain from Hurricane Sally began to batter the coast, and over the course of the day, it is likely that more and more routes to coastal communities will be cut off.
The Bob Sikes Bridge, which spans from Gulf Breeze to the beach, is still open to traffic. Farther east, the Garcon Point Bridge is also open, and the toll has been suspended. However on the west end of Escambia County, the Lillian Bridge on U.S. 98 has been closed, as has the Theo Baars Bridge to Perdido Key.
Escambia County issued a voluntary evacuation for Zone A on Monday evening, which includes Pensacola Beach, Perdido Key and other low-lying areas.
"We issued the voluntary evacuation last night once we fell under the hurricane warning, and that was partially because we were expecting the bridge closures once we reached sustained tropical storm winds and we wanted to give everybody the chance to get off the islands while there was still time," said Escambia County Commissioner Robert Bender, who represents the Pensacola Beach area.
In a press conference Tuesday morning, Escambia County officials said firefighters from Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key had all been pulled back onto the mainland for safety, but that sheriff's deputies would still be in the areas responding to calls for service. Bender said fire fighters from the beach were currently positioned in Gulf Breeze and would respond to calls as long as they were able to.
Chief Deputy Chip Simmons said deputies would remain on the roads as long as it is safe, but that at some point deputies would also have to hunker down from the storm. He and Sheriff David Morgan urged citizens to shelter in a safe place and stay off the roads unless an emergency forced them to travel.
Simmons said the ECSO and its partners would be monitoring local bridges and announcing closures if winds reached sustained high speeds.
Bender said this storm was unique in that it is moving very slowly, so we are likely to see a long period of heavy rain. He advised citizens, "be patient and be safe. Don't go out and look, or go outside trying to assess the damage until we know it's safe to do so."
Escambia County Emergency Manager said in a Tuesday morning press conference that the beach was already seeing flooding.
"As of now, we are still expecting anywhere from 2 to 4 feet of coastal storm surge," Escambia County Emergency Manager Eric Gilmore said at a 10 a.m. news conference. "We just went through our morning high tide cycle, and we did have wash over on some of our beach roads and higher breaks than what we normally do, but the beach seems to be sustaining well."
Early Tuesday morning, howling wind, stinging rain and a 4-foot storm surge combined for severe weather conditions stretching from the northern foot of the Bob Sikes Bridge all the way down both Fort Pickens Road and Via de Luna Drive.
Quietwater Beach was completely underwater and the picnic tables underneath the pavilions were nearly fully submerged, and the water was lapping at Pensacola Beach Boulevard near the toll booths. County public works employees could be seen wading through knee-high water in the Quietwater parking lot to secure trash cans and other items.
Parking lots on both sides of Pensacola Beach Boulevard were underwater, including the main parking lot for the boardwalk and the parking lots across the street for the marina, Frisky Dolphin and Shaggy’s.
Christina and Wade Trujillo are visiting Pensacola Beach this week from Wyoming, and were out Tuesday inspecting the beach conditions near Casino Beach.
Wade said the wind wasn’t “that terrible,” though they were disappointed they haven’t been able to actually go swimming in the Gulf since they arrived on Saturday.
“We haven’t been able to get in the water since we got here, it’s been red flags,” he said.
Christina said they were trying to make the most of their beach vacation while experiencing their first hurricane.
“We’re just going with the flow and making the best of it,” she said. “We bought a whole bunch of board games and stuff, so we’re just kind of hanging out.”
Annie Blanks can be reached at email@example.com or 850-435-8632.
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