Sally strengthens to 100mph category two HURRICANE as it threatens 17m on Gulf coast with 16in of rain and 11ft surges

FORECASTERS have predicted a storm surge of up to 11ft for parts of the Gulf Coast, alongside 16in of rainfall, as three states declare an emergency in the face of incoming Hurricane Sally.

Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana have all declared states of emergency as more than 17 million people lie in the path of the Category 2 hurricane.

Andrew Gilich, mayor of Biloxi, Mississippi, told CBS News his main concern is the storm surge: "We're hearing, of course, it's changing almost every hour, 7 to 11 feet of storm surge. That's what kills people."

The flood gates in New Orleans have closed as the city braces for the surge, and the National Hurricane Center predicts the surge will be deadly.

The storm is on a track to brush by the southeastern tip of Louisiana and then blow ashore late Tuesday or early Wednesday near the Mississippi-Alabama state line for what could be a long, slow and ruinous drenching.

An advisory released at 4pm CDT on Monday it is "too early" to determine where Sally will make landfall, but warned "dangerous storm surge, rainfall and wind hazards will extend well away from the center".

"An extremely dangerous and life-threatening storm surge is expected", the NHC continued.

"Tropical storm conidtions are liekly to begin this evening in these areas and preparations should be rushed to completion. Life-threatening flash flooding is likely."

Main Street on Dauphin Island, Alabama, is already underwater, and cars are stuck in the sand.

Sally is just one of four storms churning simultaneously in the Atlantic.

"This is the real deal, and it deserves your attention," Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves wrote on Twitter, shortly after the storm was upgraded. He urged people in low-lying areas to prepare to evacuate.

"Be smart. Prepare for worst. Pray for the best," he said.

Damage from Sally is expected to reach $2 billion to $3 billion, but could exceed that if the storm's heaviest rainfall happens over land instead of in the Gulf, Chuck Watson of Enki Research, which models and tracks tropical storms, told AP.

Sally is the 18th named storm in the Atlantic this year and will be the eighth of tropical storm or hurricane strength to hit the United States – something "very rare if not a record" said Dan Kottlowski, senior meteorologist at AccuWeather, noting that accurate data on historic tropical storms can be elusive.

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