Jay Reeves, The Associated Press
Published Tuesday, May 29, 2018 2:55AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, May 29, 2018 4:20PM EDT
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The remnants of Alberto doused the Deep South with waves of rain Tuesday as the vast, soggy system pushed northward toward the Tennessee Valley.
Forecasters said the subtropical depression swirling near Birmingham could dump as much as 6 inches (15 centimetres) of rain on central Alabama.
Heavy downpours reduced visibility for commuters, while toppled trees blocked roads south of the city. The U.S. Golf Association cancelled a practice round of the U.S. Women’s Open Championship, being played at Shoal Creek, because of the weather.
Alabama Power Co. said about 20,000 homes and businesses were without electricity Tuesday, most in the Birmingham area.
In south Alabama near the Florida line, the city of Andalusia reopened its roads after ordering residents to stay off streets overnight because of flash flooding and downed trees and power lines.
In Cuba, flooding damaged an oil refinery in central Cuba and caused crude oil to spill into Cienfuegos Bay as the remnants of Alberto continued to drench the island in heavy rain. State-owned TV showed authorities using barriers Tuesday to try to contain the spill from the Cienfuegos refinery about 150 miles southeast of Havana.
As the first named storm of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season, Subtropical Storm Alberto lumbered ashore Monday afternoon in the Florida Panhandle and then weakened overnight to a depression.
Forecasters said rain could still kill people caught in flash floods in the coming hours or days in Alabama and large areas of Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas.
In North Carolina, a television news anchor and a photojournalist were killed Monday while covering the weather, when a tree became uprooted from rain-soaked ground and toppled onto their SUV, authorities said.
“Two journalists working to keep the public informed about this storm have tragically lost their lives, and we mourn with their families, friends and colleagues,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement.
“North Carolina needs to take Alberto seriously. I urge everyone to keep a close eye on forecasts, warnings and road conditions, especially in western North Carolina where even heavier rain is predicted.”
The National Weather Service said a weak tornado briefly touched down Monday in central South Carolina as an outer band from Alberto moved through. A flood watch is in effect through Wednesday morning for the northwestern part of the state because of the storm.
Between 2 and 6 inches (10-15 centimetres) of rain could soak Alabama and western Georgia on Tuesday, and isolated deluges of 12 inches (30 centimetres) also are possible as the system heads into the Tennessee Valley on its way to the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes region.
Alberto dumped between 2 and 5 inches (2 and 13 centimetres) of rain over parts of the Florida Panhandle, according to the National Weather Service. Double-red flags along the white sandy beaches kept most people out of the rough waters, and some low-lying areas experienced minor flooding, officials said.
“Most of the issues we’re having right now are downed trees and downed limbs,” Walton County spokesman Louis Svehla told the Northwest Florida Daily News. “Our beaches did good. There was not a lot of erosion. The surge was not that large.”
Santa Rosa County officials had put out many piles of sand several days ago in case people wanted to make sandbags to mitigate any flooding in their homes. People who took those supplies will be better prepared as the hurricane season gets its official start on Friday, said county spokeswoman Brandi Whitehurst.
“What Alberto has done for us is to have people dust off their hurricane plans and stock up on supplies,” Whitehurst said.
The pelting rain soaked the uniform and socks of Lt. Andy Husar with the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, who watched surf get kicked up along Panama City Beach on Monday.
“It’s not a good sign, getting hit by a storm before hurricane season,” Husar told the Panama City News Herald.
As a subtropical storm, Alberto had a less defined and cooler centre than a tropical storm, and its strongest winds were found farther from its centre.
The large tree that crushed the TV news vehicle Monday afternoon near Tryon, North Carolina, killed news anchor Mike McCormick and photojournalist Aaron Smeltzer of WYFF-TV of Greenville, South Carolina, the station said.
They had just interviewed Tryon Fire Chief Geoffrey Tennant as they covered storms in North Carolina.
“Ten minutes later we get the call and it was them,” Tennant said at a news conference, his voice cracking.
Tennant said the roots of the large tree tore loose from ground saturated by a week’s worth of rain. The men died instantly, their vehicle’s engine still running, he said.
Associated Press writers Jennifer Kay in Miami Beach, Florida, Kate Brumback in Atlanta and Jeffrey S. Collins in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.