Gulf Shores and Orange Beach reopen their beaches following Hurricane Sally

Still far from rebuilt, the Alabama Gulf Coast shows resiliency
Updated: Oct. 2, 2020 at 6:15 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) For the first time since Hurricane Sally pummeled Gulf Shores and Orange Beach September 16, the two Alabama cities reopened their beaches.

As the barriers to the beach came down around 6 a.m., just a slow trickle of visitors strolled along the Gulf. However, tourism leaders expect the numbers to rise in coming days as condominium and hotel guests check into more facilities.

“Are you kidding? It’s 2020. You’ve got COVID, you’ve got hurricanes, yeah, it’s important,” said Barbara Burgess, who was searching for buried treasure Thursday along the Florida-Alabama state line.

While the Florida beaches have been open in recent days, Alabama’s remained closed.

Many of the condominiums that tower above the beach seemed fine, but tourism leaders said a number of the buildings suffered flood damage and were not yet livable.

“Everyone is doing everything they can to keep any guest, resident or relief worker here safe,” said Herb Malone, CEO of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism.

Life here is far from normal.

Sally knocked down or uprooted trees by the thousands, and debris removable crews are collecting hillsides worth of material.

At first glance, the beaches look relatively unscathed. However, the surge leveled about half-a-mile of dune at Gulf Beach State Park.

However, the surge leveled about half-a-mile of dune at Gulf Beach State Park.

The man-made dune, designed to serve as surge protection, absorbed some of Sally’s energy and protected the lodge which was rebuilt there following Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

“We did really well," said Chandra Wright, Director of Environmental and Educational Initiatives at the lodge. "This was our first big test.”

Tourism leaders were quick to point out many people along the Alabama Gulf Coast suffered serious damage to their homes and face a long recovery.

However, in other places, this is a story of resilience.

The new and improved Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo relocated to higher ground earlier this year, just in time it turned out to avoid disaster.

“On three different occasions, the zoo totally evacuated,” said Joel Hamilton, Executive Director at the zoo. “And this time around with Sally, that would’ve been catastrophic.”

Malone predicted getting back to 100 percent will take a few months, but regular visitors will find plenty that seems closer to normal.

The iconic FLORA-BAMA bar and restaurants resumed business this week;.

“It’s definitely a place to get away and cut loose and have a good time," said Co-owner Cameron Price.

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