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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Flooding Devastates Florida With Heaviest Rains In 130 Years

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People survey a Burger King on Brent Lane, one of the main roads in the city that was flooded out after heavy rains and flash flooding on April 30, 2014 in Pensacola, Florida. (Marianna Massey/Getty Images)People look at natural gas leaks as they spray into the sky on Piedmont Street in the Cordova Park neighborhood after it washed out due to heavy rains on April 30, 2014 in Pensacola, Florida. (Marianna Massey/Getty Images)People survey the damage on Scenic Highway after part of the highway collapsed following heavy rains and flash flooding on April 30, 2014 in Pensacola, Florida. (Marianna Massey/Getty Images)A car is submerged in flood water at a shopping center located on Brent Lane, one of the main roads in the city that was flooded out after heavy rains and flash flooding on April 30, 2014 in Pensacola, Florida. (Marianna Massey/Getty Images)People survey the damage on Piedmont Street in the Cordova Park neighborhood after it washed out due to heavy rains on April 30, 2014 in Pensacola, Florida. (Marianna Massey/Getty Images)

There’s widespread devastation in Pensacola, Florida, as unprecedented flooding and a deadly explosion follow the heaviest rainfall in a single day since the late 1800s.

Storms have also pummeled parts of Tennessee and Mississippi, but the torrential rains were heaviest in Florida, where people were rescued off rooftops and roads were cut in pieces, or entirely wiped out.

In some areas, two feet of rain fell in a single 24-hour period.

An apparent gas explosion at a jail in Pensacola killed two inmates and injured as many as 150 others. The fire marshal will determine if the flooding and explosion are related.

Here & Now’s Sacha Pfeiffer checks in with Tom Ninestine, an editor at the Pensacola News Journal, who toured the devastated region by helicopter.

Interview Highlights: Tom Ninestine

On what he saw when flying over Pensacola

“It was heartbreaking to see homes, cars, just submerged by water. I was here for Hurricane Ivan, and the water damage here far exceeds that. There are estimates as much as 26 inches of rain fell on Santa Rosa County, where I live, and just about the same in Escambia County, where Pensacola is located. Today, it’s still overcast. We’re expecting as much as an inch to an inch and a half of rain, which will only add to the misery, but we’re slowly mopping up. The Salvation Army is out, hitting the hardest hit areas with food. To help those that have been displaced, shelters are open. County officials have started the assessment of damage. Governor Rick Scott was here first thing yesterday to provide help from the National Guard. Our senator and our congressman, Jeff Miller, are seeking help from FEMA. We’re gonna get out of this.”

On infrastructure damage from the rain

“Scenic Highway… is one of the most traveled in Pensacola. It’s in northwest bound Escambia Bay. And that really was an eye-opener for us. We’ve cancelled schools today and likely tomorrow to make sure that the roads are all stable. The last thing we need we need is a school bus full of children on a road that’s not quite stable. Some of the bridges are being checked out. But most of the major roads have been affected.”

On the explosion aftermath at the Escambia County Jail

“There are two confirmed dead. We believe they are inmates. There are at least three people continue to be missing. The 150 people have been taken to various hospitals. I spoke with one hospital spokesman, and he said that most of them have been released — probably smoke inhalation and minor injuries — but right now, the identities of the two that were killed haven’t been released. Right now, it looks like it’s an expected gas explosion that may caused this, and what happens is, when the ground starts to wash away, those pipes start to become vulnerable.”

Guest

    • Tom Ninestine, editor for the Pensacola News Journal. He tweets @tninestinepnj.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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