Pensacola News Journal
Hurricane Isaac's storm surge and rain reached Escambia and Santa Rosa counties today, flooding coastlines, roads and neighborhoods in vulnerable areas.
Both counties are under a tornado watch until 7 p.m. today, as well as a tropical storm warning and flash flood watch.
Throughout the day, bands of rain have peppered Northwest Florida between bursts of sunshine. Another bout of heavy rains began again in earnest late this afternoon. Government offices, schools and many businesses had closed for the impending storm, but residents across the region went about their day as usual.
Still, National Weather Service meteorologist Keith Williams said people should continue to take caution.
"There's still a possibility of some tropical storm conditions this afternoon," he said. "There are east winds of 30 to 45 miles per hour and gusts of 50 to 55 miles per hour."
Most parts of the two counties have seen 1 inch or less of rain since last night. He said to expect more rain. A flash flood watch is in effect through Wednesday. Scattered showers will continue to move across the area through tonight. The Weather Service's afternoon advisory warns that a storm surge of 3 to 6 feet, 2 to 4 inches of rain and small tornadoes are still possible across Northwest Florida.
"I wouldn't let your guard down at this point," Williams said.
Hurricane Isaac is getting better organized as it nears southeastern Louisiana, the National Hurricane Center says in its afternoon advisory.
At 4 p.m., Isaac was about 30 miles south-southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River. The storm was moving northwest at 8 mph and has 80 mph maximum sustained winds.
In Santa Rosa County, spectators lined the Navaree Beach Pier and watched massive rough surf pound the beach. Officials closed the pier this afternoon.
Shoreline Park in Gulf Breeze was closed, with water from Santa Rosa Sound overflowing much of the park's fishing pier and covering the parking to depth of about 1 foot.
In Pensacola, waters were rising in parts of downtown and along waterways and low-lying areas.
At Pensacola Beach, roads and neighborhoods flooded. Escambia Sheriff's deputies closed Via De Luna Drive east of Portofino, and the road to Fort Pickens was submerged near the gate.
A Quietwater Beach business owner and some others freed a boat that bumped into a dock there and got caught. Key Sailing owner Kirk Newkirk said he got a call about it, so he and two others went out on the partially submerged dock and set the boat loose. Charlie Trinque, 30, stayed aboard as it floated away and jumped off after anchoring it in the water so that it wouldn't damage the dock.
"We obviously didn't want to lose our dock or have somebody's boat get damaged," Trinque said.
Who owns the boat is not known, but Newkirk and the others simply laughed it off after setting it afloat.
"If that's the only thing that happens on the beach today, we'll be OK," Newkirk said.
As waves pound the Pensacola coastline, red flags are flying to keep swimmers out of the Gulf. Escambia officials said beachgoers who go into the water should not expect help from lifeguards or emergency responders. Dangerous surf and rip currents will linger for days.
The Gulf pier was closed to the public. At Quietwater Beach, waves reached the pavilions and crashed against the pier behind the Portofino Boardwalk.
The beach was nowhere near as crowded as on a hot summer day, but scattered sightseers showed up throughout the day
Charles and Judy Ehlin of Pace said they could not believe how big the waves are on Pensacola Beach as they viewed them from a parking lot dune crossover near Portofino Resort.
"We saw the waves from Ivan, Erin and Opal, " Judy Ehlin said of the 2004 and 1995 hurricanes. "But I've never seen waves as big as these."
At Sidelines Sports Bar and Restaurant, there was a large lunch crowd.
Greg Calvert, restaurant manager, said the restaurant has seen good business in the past couple of days. Some other restaurants closed today, but Sidelines will remain open unless storms interrupt food deliveries. Employees were give the option to stay home, but he said many showed up for work.
Many businesses closed or changed their hours ahead of the storm.
Santa Rosa County offices will remain closed on Wednesday. Pensacola International Airport is closed today but expects to open at 7 a.m. Wednesday.
Escambia County and City of Pensacola offices are closed; officials hope to reopen offices tomorrow. Escambia County Area Transit services have been suspended.
The Emerald Coast Utilities Authority will resume trash pickup Wednesday after a hiatus today as a result of Hurricane Isaac, ECUA representatives said.
Workers will collect today's trash route Wednesday. For the rest of the week, the actual collection will fall one day after the regularly scheduled collection. For example, Wednesday's collection will be picked up Thursday; Thursday's route will be run Friday. The adjusted route will only last this week.
The normal commercial collection schedule will run throughout the week, with the exception of Wednesday, when today's trash will also be collected.
Escambia and Santa Rosa schools will remain closed Wednesday.
PNJ.com's Rhema Thompson, Kimberly Blair, Louis Cooper, Carlton Proctor, Rob Johnson, Nate Monroe and Eric Heisig contributed to this report.