Video: Millions of dollars of damage in Southeast flooding

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updated 6/9/2012 8:48:33 PM ET 2012-06-10T00:48:33

Flash flood emergencies have been declared for parts of the Gulf Coast region as thunderstorms with extremely heavy rainfall have dumped up to 18 inches of rain in less than 24 hours.

In addition, Gulf Coast beaches away from the worst flooding are bracing for the risk of dangerous rip currents throughout the weekend.

The first flash flood emergency was declared by the National Weather Service for southern Mobile County, Ala., late Saturday morning.

Radar estimates indicate 12 to 18 inches of rain have fallen near Tillmans Corner, just southwest of Mobile. Reports indicate several water rescues have taken place in this area since late Saturday morning.

Video: 20 rescued from rip currents (on this page)
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The Mobile airport recorded 5.81 inches by 3 p.m. Central time, establishing a new record for June 9 and becoming the fifth wettest June day in Mobile weather records, with half the day still remaining.

A dam failed on a 14-acre private lake in Mobile County, stranding residents in their homes. Several roads were reported underwater across Mobile and Baldwin counties.

The second flash flood emergency was issued early Saturday afternoon for Escambia County, Fla., including the Pensacola area.  Pensacola International Airport recorded 11.87 inches of rain Saturday as of 2:57 p.m. local time, the second-highest daily total on record for Pensacola.

The last time Pensacola officially received more rain in a single calendar day was Oct. 5, 1934, with 15.29 inches.

By evening, more than 13 inches had fallen.

By early Saturday afternoon, water was entering the first floor of Baptist Hospital in Pensacola. Emergency management officials in Escambia County, Fla., are requesting residents to "stay home and not drive unless necessary."

"We're anticipating several more inches," said Cam Johnson of the Escambia County Emergency Management Agency. "I've lived in this area my whole life and I've seen roads and areas flooded that I've never seen flooded before."

Water was reported entering homes near Perdido Bay. Nearby Pensacola Naval Air Station recorded 11.97 inches of rain between midnight and 2 p.m. Saturday. Radar estimates indicated 14 to 18 inches of rainfall over the Perdido Key area.

The National Weather Service issued a third flash flood emergency to include southern Santa Rosa County, Fla., through 8 p.m. local time.  Some homes in Gulf Breeze were taking on water, according to the National Weather Service.

The heavy rainfall is expected to continue through the weekend and early next week.

An area of low pressure is drawing very moist air north from the Gulf of Mexico. This moisture is interacting with a front stalled along the Gulf Coast. The front is serving as a focus for repeated thunderstorm activity across the coastal region.

The rains will expand north and northeastward into interior portions of the Deep South Sunday into Monday, including cities such as Birmingham and Atlanta.

The weather pattern responsible for the thunderstorms is also generating a large field of robust southerly winds across much of the Gulf of Mexico.

Those winds, at times 20 to 30 miles per hour, are blowing perpendicular to the central Gulf Coast, creating a high risk of rip currents.

So if you luck out and catch a break from all the thunderstorms, be cautious at the beach. Inexperienced swimmers are best advised to stay out of the water.

If you do encounter a rip current, do not attempt to swim against the current.  Instead, swim parallel to shore until you are out of the rip current, and then swim back to shore.

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