— PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — Valencia Norton awoke to a neighbor pounding on the windows of the mobile home she shared with a friend. Water had washed away her steps and part of the porch. She grabbed a small bag of clothes and waited.
"I was freaking," said Norton, tears streaming down her face as she recalled the scene. "I don't know how to swim."
A short time later, a firefighter came by and carried her to dry land. It was one of many rescue stories from the single rainiest day ever recorded in Pensacola, and another tale of survival after days of relentless storms across the U.S., beginning with deadly and destructive tornadoes Sunday in the Midwest.
On Monday, the violent winds wrecked parts of Tennessee and Mississippi, but by the time the storm system arrived in the Panhandle, the devastation was all water.
The system was expected to bring heavy rain and thunderstorms to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions Thursday.
In Florida, people were plucked off rooftops Wednesday or climbed into their attics to get away when nearly 2 feet of rain dropped on the area in the span of about 24 hours. Roads were chewed up into pieces or wiped out entirely and neighborhoods were inundated, making rescues difficult for hundreds of people who called for help when they were caught off guard.
Boats and Humvees zigzagged through the flooded streets to help stranded residents. A car and truck plummeted 25 feet when portions of a scenic highway collapsed, and one Florida woman died when she drove her car into high water, officials said.
Near the Alabama-Florida line, water started creeping into Brandi McCoon's mobile home, so her fiance, Jonathan Brown, wrapped up her nearly 2-year-old son Noah in a blanket and they swam in neck-deep water to their car about 50 feet away.