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© ReutersFlood: Chris Mandel, 14, pictured, paddles through a parking lot in Pensacola, Florida
A storm moving across the Gulf Coast battered parts of Alabama and Florida with up to 18 inches of rain on Saturday, flooding hundreds of homes and causing widespread power blackouts.

Authorities in Pensacola, Florida, have declared the flooding an emergency and sent out boats to rescue residents stranded in their homes.

The National Weather Service said 13.11 inches fell on Pensacola over 24 hours by Saturday, coming close to the city's all-time record of 15.29 inches set in 1934.

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© APBad weather: Residents in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, make their way through heavy rain on Saturday
Mobile, Alabama, saw 15 inches of rain that stranded people in cars and caused a dam to break on a private lake, officials said.

The heavy rains in the region began on Friday night as winds picked up tropical moisture and streamed it from New Orleans in the Gulf Coast to Jacksonville on Florida's eastern coast.

The severe weather has caused what could be millions of dollars in flood damage in the Pensacola area alone and more rain is on the way.

Pensacola and Mobile, which are less than 60 miles apart, have been the worst-hit areas, said meteorologist Mike Pigott, adding that the areas have been 'like two bull's eyes'.

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© ReutersWaterlogged: The storm battered parts of Alabama and Florida with up to 18inches of rain on Saturday
The two cities are along the Gulf Coast's Interstate-10 corridor, which has seen the most severe rain and flooding.

In Escambia County, which includes Pensacola and is on the border with Alabama, officials declared a state of emergency and advised residents in low-lying areas to evacuate.

A massive surge of floodwater at a Pensacola apartment complex stranded many first-floor tenants, and about 100 people had to be rescued, said Jacob Conner, volunteer communications commander for Escambia County Search and Rescue.

'We came in with two rescue boats the size of fishing boats,' Mr Conner said.

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© ReutersWet: The deluge flooded a shopping centre parking lot in the Warrington area of Pensacola, pictured
'We ran a three-hour rescue operation. We were rescuing families, children, babies and elderly residents.'

Two emergency shelters opened in Escambia County for displaced residents, said county communications coordinator Cam Johnson.

Thousands were without power.

'We estimate that a couple of hundred people are flooded out,' Mr Johnson said.

Neighboring Santa Rosa County had about 40 homes flooded.

The rain hit a lull by Saturday night, but NWS meteorologist Jason Beaman said they expected more showers and thunderstorms and more intense rain again on Sunday and into Monday.

In Alabama between Dawes and Saint Elmo, which are within 10 miles of each other and southwest of Mobile, there were reports of more than 18 inches of rain on Saturday.

'It's wet, way too wet,' Mr Beaman said.

'Mobile has seen tremendous flooding. People have had to be rescued from vehicles, businesses and homes. Some of the people in cars either underestimated the depth of the water, or it came up on them fast.'

On a 14-acre private lake in the Mobile area, a dam broke due to rising waters and people were stranded in their homes.

The storm is expected to continue for 24 to 36 hours and move into northern Alabama and Georgia, Mr Pigott said.

Sheriff David Morgan told the Pensacola News Journal that he estimated the damage around the county at around $20 million. The sheriff's department's central booking building was among the buildings flooded