‘We had a body wash up’: Hurricane Sally unleashes ‘unreal’ rainfall on US coast

“We had strong winds for a long period of time,” said 38-year-old Grant Saltz as he took a break from clearing debris outside his Mobile restaurant. “Instead of a few hours we got it for 12 hours.”

In Pensacola, where wind gusts were clocked at 77mph at one point, images on social media showed major floods. One witness reported hailstorms in the city as well and the NHC warned of possible tornadoes.

Pensacola police warned of high winds and urged residents not to drive around looking at damage.

“We see lots of ‘lookers’ out,” the police department wrote on Twitter. “It’s slowing our progress down. Please stay at home!”

Electrical crews from other states have arrived in Pensacola to aid in restoration efforts.

“This year we’ve just got hurricane after hurricane,” said Matt Lane, 23, a member of a crew from New Hampshire Electric Coop, who arrived late on Tuesday directly from Hurricane Laura recovery efforts in Texas.

Sally is the 18th named storm in the Atlantic this year and the eighth of tropical storm or hurricane strength to hit the United States. There are currently three other named storms in the Atlantic, highlighting one of the most active Atlantic hurricane seasons on record.

“We’ve only got one name left,” said Jim Foerster, chief meteorologist at DTN, an energy, agriculture and weather data provider, referencing the procedure to name storms and the prospect of running out of letters. “That’s going to happen here soon, Wilfred, and then we’ll be into the Greek alphabet.”

Hurricanes have increased in their intensity and destructiveness since the 1980s as the climate has warmed, according to researchers at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Climate change is also a factor in the increasing frequency of record-breaking wildfires plaguing the western United States, scientists said.

Damage from Sally is expected to reach $2 billion to $3 billion (£1.5bn-£2.3bn), said Chuck Watson of Enki Research, which tracks tropical storms and models the cost of their damage. That estimate could rise if the heaviest rainfall happens over land, Mr Watson said.

As the storm moved east and inland, ports on the western Gulf Coast were reopened to travel and energy companies were beginning to return crews to offshore oil platforms.

Sally shut more than a quarter of US Gulf of Mexico offshore oil and gas production. Two coastal oil refiners halted or slowed operations, adding to existing outages from last month’s Hurricane Laura and pandemic-related demand losses.