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Torrential rains cause flooding, damage in Florida Panhandle

From Kara Devlin, CNN
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon June 11, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The weather service warns of a "high risk of rip tide currents" through Monday
  • Rainfall totals varied greatly in the region, from one inch to nearly 22 inches
  • Roads, bridges and structures -- including a county jail -- are affected, officials say
  • Flash flood watches are in effect for parts of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi

(CNN) -- Parts of the Florida Panhandle and coastal Alabama were under water Sunday, with an onslaught of torrential rains causing not just extensive flooding but also damage to roads and buildings, local officials said.

More than 20 inches of rain have fallen over the past 24 hours in spots in Escambia County, the county's emergency management director John Dosh told CNN around noon Sunday.

The National Weather Service, in fact, noted a wide range of rainfall totals around the region through 8 a.m. Sunday. Though some coastal spots such as Destin, Florida, received around an inch, others had much more -- including between five and 10 inches in parts of Mobile, Alabama, and 21.7 inches in West Pensacola, Florida.

The precipitation contributed to a host of problems, with flooding especially substantial in the southern part of Escambia County along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, according to Dosh.

Cars attempt to navigate high water Sunday in Escambia County, Florida.
Cars attempt to navigate high water Sunday in Escambia County, Florida.

Some 113 people are in shelters in Escambia County due to the storm, and residents of a low-lying apartment complex were ordered to evacuate, the spokesman added. But there have been no related fatalities or injuries.

Additionally, several roads and bridges, as well as a number of homes and businesses, have suffered damage, said Dosh.

One of the structures affected is the Escambia County Jail in Pensacola. The facility's central booking facility, where inmates are brought in, was under about six feet of water at midday Saturday, according to Escambia County Sheriff's Office spokesman Mike Ward.

The main part of the jail, which houses 697 inmates, lost power in the storm, said Ward. But temporary power has been brought in, and efforts continue to get the air conditioning back working. The spokesman said security at the jail was never compromised.

Flash flooding made parts of some roadways impassable, with some reporting waters rising more than six feet in spots.

Leroy Bonifay, 90, told CNN affiliate WALA that he and his grandson got stuck along Airport Boulevard in Pensacola when water "washed up over my hood and drowned my engine." It climbed even higher, up to the windows, before two bystanders came to their rescue.

"I have never seen it get this high in this area before," said Bonifay. "It's tough, but we'll make it out all right."

And the headaches aren't over, as the rain may not let up anytime soon.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch through Monday morning for parts of southwest Alabama, northwest Florida and southeast Mississippi, where three to six more inches of rain are expected.

There is also "a high risk for rip currents" through 1 p.m. Monday off Alabama and Florida Panhandle beaches, according to the weather agency.

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