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The Florida Panhandle and southern Alabama face heavy flooding following a record rainfall from the severe storm system that has brought death and destruction across the South.

"There's no way this flooding is going away any time soon," said Ben Kitzel of Gulf Breeze, Fla., as he paddled a kayak with Abby, his black Labrador, on board.

High water forced officials to shut down Interstate 10 at the Alabama-Florida state line, stranding people in their cars. Some drivers simply abandoned their vehicles to walk to safety. One woman died when her car went into high water, officials said.

There was one confirmed death: a 67-year-old Pensacola woman drowned when her vehicle was submerged by flood waters on U.S. 29 at Cantonment, Fla., the Pensacola News Journal reported.

The heavy rains also wiped out a section of Scenic Highway that runs along the western side of Escambia Bay near Pensacola, Fla. Two vehicles plummeted 40 feet as a 50-yard wide section of the highway collapsed south of Gaberonne, Fla., the newspaper reported.

Ron Davis has worked for the city of Gulf Breeze's maintenance segment for 27 years but had never seen the flood damage he observed Wednesday.

"We measured 19 inches of rain this morning," Davis told the News Journal as he slogged through water up to his knees on Loruna Drive in Gulf Breeze.

"There's not much we can do but wait for this to go down," said Davis, who left his city pickup truck at a dry spot to walk on his inspection tour of a residential neighborhood.

Kathryn Dooley said she saw motorists stopped by standing water on roads as they tried to begin their morning commute.

"People were walking around like zombies. Nobody knew what to do," Dooley said.

School in the Cordova Park area was canceled Wednesday, and bands of roving children wandered barefoot through the streets.

"I've never seen anything like this," said fifth-grader Robert Harrison.

Most of the eastern third of the nation will continue to see heavy rain and the chance of severe thunderstorms and flooding through the rest of today and early Thursday.

The Storm Prediction Center forecast a risk of severe thunderstorms Wednesday evening from the central Appalachians and Mid-Atlantic across the coastal Southeast to the Florida Panhandle.

Over the past four days, the storms hit especially hard in places such as Arkansas' northern Little Rock suburbs and the Mississippi cities of Louisville and Tupelo. Arkansas, with 15 deaths after a tornado blasted through Sunday, and Mississippi with 12 deaths from Monday's storms, accounted for the brunt of the death toll.

The National Weather Service said that more than 5 inches of rain fell between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tuesday in Pensacola, surpassing the entire total rainfall from Hurricane Ivan in 60 minutes.

In Florida, fire rescue crews weren't able to respond to some calls for help because of road flooding in and around Pensacola, Escambia County spokesman Bill Pearson said.

"It's gotten to the point where we can't send EMS and fire rescue crews out on some 911 calls because they can't get there," Pearson said. "We've had people whose homes are flooding and they've had to climb up to the attic."

Escambia County Public Information Officer Bill Pearson said Bristol Oaks was one of the country's hardest-hit areas.

"We had to have boats go into the neighborhood and get people out of their attics," Pearson said.

In Alabama, Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency Director Mitchell Sims told AL.com early Wednesday that "we have historical flooding" throughout the county and that calls for help have been "non-stop" all night.

Sims, who noted that Fairhope, Ala., got 11.5 inches of rain overnight, said reverse 911 calls were going out to people living south of I-10. "We're advising people not to travel," he said.

Downtown sections of Mobile, Ala., and Pensacola were hit by severe flooding as the strong storm cell dumped more than a foot of rain on the region. Heavy rains also opened up a sinkhole in Mobile, swallowing a truck.

Escambia county, on the far western tip of the Florida Panhandle, declared a state of emergency and ordered people to stay off the roadways.

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The Florida National Guard dispatched high-wheeled vehicles into the hardest hit areas and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staffed two boats with officers who made medical rescues and helped pull stranded residents to safety.

Even the huge Pensacola Naval Air Station was closed Wednesday morning except for essential personnel.

At the Scenic Hills North housing development near Pensacola, one resident, Jill Hubbs, said swirling waters had swept cars into a creek at the entrance, the News Journal reports.

"A teenage driver yelled for help and the car flipped on its side," Hubbs said via Facebook. "Thanks to my nephew, Jonathan, and brother-in-law, Bob, who tied extension cords together, the teenager, who was hanging onto a tree, is safe. But another car is trapped with two people inside and the water is rushing like the rapids. There is a fire truck here, but they can't reach the car, which has water up to the middle of the doors."

Contributing: William M. Welch in Los Angeles; Terry Strickland and Tony Giberson, Pensacola News Journal; Associated Press

RAW VIDEO: Flooding seen in downtown Pensacola along Jefferson Street.

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