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Hurricane Sally Causes Big Bend Closures, Voluntary Evacuations

National Hurricane Center Latest.png
National Hurricane Center
The western Big Bend region is under a tropical storm warning as Hurricane Sally creeps toward the coast on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.

Residents who live in the Big Bend region can expect a prolonged risk of flooding over the next couple of days, as Hurricane Sally inches toward land. School closures are taking place across the region, and some residents are being asked to evacuate.

The National Weather Service in Tallahassee has expanded its tropical storm warning to include all of Walton and Bay Counties, along with Holmes and Washington Counties, which are farther inland. Coastal Gulf County is also under a warning. Tropical storm force winds (39-73 mph) and 1-3 feet storm surge are possible in those areas as the Category 1 storm slowly makes landfall.

Communities in the panhandle have already received 5-6 inches of rain from the Category 1 storm, and are expected to get 15-16 inches more through Thursday, according to the latest NWS forecast.

Heavy rains have flooded roads in Walton County, making them impassable, said Louis Svehla, the county's public information officer. "One of the most dangerous places you can be when we’re dealing with water is the roads," he said. "We’re trying to let people know that if they don’t have to travel to please do not travel until this system has passed and all areas are accessible.”

On Tuesday, county commissioners issued a voluntary evacuation notice to residents who live in coastal and low-lying areas, urging them to move to higher ground.

Svehla says people who live near rivers and creeks should monitor their area for flooding. "We don't expect those rivers to crest immediately, but certainly over the next couple of days, those will continue to expand."

The county has opened a shelter at Freeport High School.

Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency on Tuesday afternoon for Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Liberty, Okaloosa, Walton and Washington Counties.

Schools in all of those counties, except Gadsden and Liberty Counties, are closed on Wednesday.