Florida couple trapped in home by Hurricane Sally flooding rescued by passer-by on Jet Ski

ByJay Reeves AP logo
Thursday, September 17, 2020
Gulf communities ravaged by Hurricane Sally
At least one person is dead and another missing in Alabama's Orange Beach after Sally blew ashore early Wednesday morning dumping torrential rains along the Gulf Coast and Florida's Panhandle. As those areas continue to look toward rescue and recovery, Sally's remnants still threaten more flooding.

CANTONMENT, Fla. -- The firetrucks and rescue vehicles kept passing her house even after Elaine Hulgan, 76, wrote "IN ATTIC HELP" on the front door. So Hulgan's 84-year-old husband resorted to his best emergency signal: an ear-splitting whistle.

The noise rose above the din, and a firefighter on a Jet Ski soon rescued the couple and their two dogs off the front stoop of their brick home.

The Florida couple was trapped in their home after Hurricane Sally lumbered ashore Wednesday morning near Gulf Shores, Alabama, with 105 mph (165 kph) winds. At least one death has been attributed to the storm.

Now comes the tough part for Elaine and Jack Hulgan - filing insurance claims, dealing with two flooded cars, finding temporary housing and waiting to get home.

"I wouldn't wish it on anyone," Elaine Hulgan said.

Sally continues to weaken as it moves over the South after hitting the Gulf Coast as a Category 2 hurricane but is still a dangerous rainmaker as it moves into Georgia on a path to the Carolinas.

Residents of a flood-prone neighborhood north of Pensacola since 1993, the Hulgans know what to do during a big storm. They've been flooded twice before and forced into the attic once.

As others tuned out forecasts about Sally because it was initially projected to hit far west in Louisiana and then Mississippi, Elaine Hulgan started moving books and photos out of low cabinets in their den, just in case. Her husband put the lawn mower atop a table on the back porch.

The rain from Sally started out light but soon changed into torrents. Water began rising from 11 Mile Creek across the street.

The muddy water first got to the road and then their driveway before entering the yard. It crept up to the entrance and was soon seeping under the front door.

As a mix of water from the rain, the creek and sewage overflows began filling the one-story house with the first of 20 inches (0.5 meters) of fetid water, the couple knew they had to do something.

Walking into the garage, past a new Toyota with just 35 miles (56 kilometers) on it, they climbed up the pull-down stairs to the attic overhead. The dogs were there, too. They all felt relatively safe.

Soon they could hear trucks rumbling into their neighborhood, down the street and past their house.

"When they kept going by and not seeing us, I told Jack, 'Jack, are the four of us going to die in this house?'" Elaine said.

She used a can of spray paint to scrawl the message on the door, but things felt dire.

"We were just scared. And Jack said, 'We'll just go back in the attic and stay there.' I said, 'Jack, I don't want to die in the attic. And he said, 'We aren't going to die,'" Elaine said.

A firefighter finally heard the man's whistling from the front door, and the Jet Ski was soon in the yard. Rescuers used a small raft to remove them and the dogs.

While Jack is "pretty laid-back," Elaine said she was worried horribly until they were rescued early Wednesday. They first went to a community center and then the home of a friend.

Elaine Hulgan said they're not sure where they might live while their home is being repaired, but they're also thankful to be alive.

Jack "said everything was going to be OK, and it was," she said.