AILSA CHANG, HOST:
On the Gulf Coast, cleanup is underway after a devastating blow from Hurricane Sally. The storm is now a tropical depression, dousing the southeast. At least one person died in the storm, hundreds of people had to be rescued from rising floodwaters, and it has left nearly a half million people without electricity. NPR's Debbie Elliott checked in on the recovery efforts on the Alabama Gulf Coast today.
(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SPLASHING)
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: You have to wade through knee-deep water to get to Jody Phillips' house in the Bear Point neighborhood of Orange Beach.
JODY PHILLIPS: You know, even yesterday - it went down from yesterday. Yesterday, it was above the wheels of our car.
ELLIOTT: They have no power, and cell phone service is spotty. So Phillips says they feel a little cut off other than what they can see from what has become the island that is their home after Hurricane Sally.
PHILLIPS: We're alive so (laughter) - I mean, sheds are demolished. Trees are - I couldn't believe a big palm tree could fall like that. Telephone poles leaning - it's just undescribable here. It's just a mess.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHAINSAW)
ELLIOTT: Crews today are working to clear debris and downed trees from roadways so that power trucks and other emergency responders can move around, but some coastal roads and bridges are not passable - the same story in nearby Gulf Shores, Ala. and east to Pensacola, Fla. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey says the recovery will be slow because of record devastation.
KAY IVEY: This slow-moving storm has perhaps the biggest impact of any storm we've ever seen.
ELLIOTT: Officials are planning to setup emergency distribution points today, where people can get provisions like water, ice and tarps to shore up damaged roofs. In the meantime, some Orange Beach workers have been trying to salvage items found in the debris and get them back to where they belong.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Is your boat blue and white?
JOSEPH LAW: Yeah. Yeah, the top's down there.
ELLIOTT: Joseph Law has piles of sodden and stinking debris in front of his house, which was inundated by Sally's storm surge from Wolf Bay.
LAW: We survived. It's just stuff. We can buy more stuff. Hopefully everybody else is all right.
ELLIOTT: He estimates there was wave action on his first floor topping six feet, based on the watermarks on the ceiling. The furniture is soaked. His pier is gone. The yard next door is still underwater.
LAW: The neighborhood pier went in there, hit his pilings supporting his house, and now his house is catawampus.
ELLIOTT: He's worried what's now out in the bay and what that might mean for the environment.
LAW: A little while ago, that sailboat floated by sideways, unattended, dragging half of a dock. And it only stopped because it hit someone's pier that was jutting out further. Unattended boats just keep floating by, like a ghost town.
ELLIOTT: More boats are piled up in people's yards, even on the main road through town.
JERRY JOHNSON: Sally has been the worst direct hit that we've had.
ELLIOTT: Orange Beach City Councilman Jerry Johnson says this seems even worse than Hurricane Ivan, a direct hit from a much more powerful storm 16 years ago.
JOHNSON: The flooding is catastrophic.
ELLIOTT: Johnson says the city is hiring people with trailers to start gathering up everything that Hurricane Sally destroyed. But with water still standing in some places, it could take time. But he says the people here have the tenacity to recover.
JOHNSON: 2020 has been a year of many, many mountains to climb. And we're not even over it. We're in the - still, the peak season of hurricane season so - but we've got the spirit to overcome anything. And America has always been - it was born on that, and we still are living that.
ELLIOTT: As the Coast cleans up, towns further inland from Georgia to Virginia are dealing with rivers and streams now overflowing because of all the rain left in Sally's wake. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Orange Beach, Ala. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.