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Orange Beach and Gulf Shores closed to tourists

The top tourist towns in Alabama are closed to tourists as the two beachfront towns clean up from the biggest hurricane to hit the state’s Gulf Coast since Ivan in 2004. Hurricane Sally plowed into Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and surrounding communities before dawn Wednesday, doing tremendous damage.

Tourists are banned from visiting Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and the Fort Morgan peninsula for at least 10 days.

“Our destination is closed to visitors for at least the next 10 days (through Saturday, Sept. 26) to allow the cities, businesses, and residents time to assess damage and begin cleanup and repairs,” said Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism in a statement. “This includes Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and the Fort Morgan Peninsula. Visitors with existing reservations for these dates should contact the hotel or company you have reservations with to understand their policies related to storms, cancellations and rescheduling.”

The Foley Beach Express toll bridge and the Perdido Pass Bridge are both closed to visitors attempting to enter the cities. Only Orange Beach and Gulf Shores residents with hurricane re-entry passes and workers who can provide proof of employment through a work ID or a pay stub will be allowed to cross the bridges.

Visitors who are already there are being permitted to leave.

The Gulf State Park pier appears to have been destroyed. A large section of the pier appears to be absent in pictures posted by reporters on the scene.

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Commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Chris Blankenship said that it is too early to assess the damage because travel was so difficult Wednesday in South Baldwin County.

“We’re in a holding pattern waiting for the weather to improve. … We have teams waiting to make damage assessments,” Blankenship told AL.com.

The state had just finished a $2.4 million renovation of the fishing pier that had included replacing the decking, adding an observation platform and replacing lighting with lights more friendly to endangered sea turtles.

Blankenship said that the pier is insured. There was supposed to be a ribbon cutting this week on the new and improved pier but obviously that ceremony was cancelled due to the Hurricane.

The previous lodge was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan and many critics questioned if building such a large structure on a hurricane-prone sandbar next to the ocean was wise.

According to the early assessments, the lodge has survived Hurricane Sally.

Blankenship told the Alabama Media Group that the Lodge had “minimal damage.” The storm surge “blew in the front doors,” but the structure itself was not compromised. There were a few guests in the lodge at the time.

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There are numerous homes, businesses and other structures in Baldwin County that have received damage from wind, storm surge, flooding or falling trees.

First responders are still dealing with the disaster.

“This is what we do. It is 4am and our staff just finished up working a structure fire with exposure involved,” the Orange Beach Fire Department posted on social media Thursday morning. “They couldn’t access the road leading to the incident due to flood waters, downed trees and power lines. They had to hand jack 1000 feet of 5” supply hose through 3 feet of water from the truck to the fire. While the two structures were total losses, they saved at least three exposures. All of this after a sleepless previous night of rescuing countless victims of flood waters due to hurricane Sally. Firefighters don’t “toot their own horns” but I will do it for them. To say I am proud to get to work with these heroic people is an understatement.”

The Alabama Department of Public Health has closed shellfish growing waters in Baldwin and Mobile counties, including Cedar Point, Portersville Bay, Heron Bay, Navy Cove, Dauphin Island Bay and Grand Bay.

The order by State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris closed harvesting as of 4 p.m. on Sept. 14, 2020. The order is issued as a result of possible bacteriological contamination of the oyster beds due to rainfall associated with Hurricane Sally.

Mobile County’s Dauphin Island has also suffered extensive damage as well as Pensacola, where the downtown flooded. Hurricane Sally produced flooding as far west as Slidell, Louisiana. Flood waters could continue to rise in Baldwin Counties as rivers crest.

All of Baldwin County remains under a 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.

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Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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