Six dead as Michael rips through Florida Panhandle
MEXICO BEACH: Hurricane Michael’s violence was visible in shattered Florida coastal towns, where rows of homes were ripped from foundations and roofs were peeled off schools by the nearrecord-force storm blamed for six deaths. Michael smashed into Florida’s northwest coast near the small town of Mexico Beach on Thursday with screeching 250km/h winds, pushing a wall of seawater inland.
Video shot by CNN from a helicopter showed homes closest to the water in Mexico Beach had lost all but their foundations. A few blocks inland, about half the homes were reduced to piles of wood and siding and those still standing were heavily damaged.
Michael, the third most powerful hurricane to hit the US mainland, weakened overnight to a tropical storm and pushed northeast, bringing drenching rains to Georgia and the Carolinas, which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence last month.
Michael killed at least six people in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina from falling trees and other hurricane-related incidents, officials said.
The injured in Florida were taken to hospitals in Tallahassee, with some hurt after the storm by breaking tree limbs and falls, said Allison Castillo, director of emergency services at the city’s Capital Regional Medical Centre.
In Panama City, 32km northwest of Mexico Beach, buildings were crushed and boats scattered. Michael left utility wires on roads, flattened tall pine trees and knocked a steeple from a church.
Nearly 950,000 homes and businesses were without power in Florida, Alabama, the Carolinas and Georgia yesterday.
Governor Rick Scott told the Weather Channel the damage from Panama City down to Mexico Beach was “way worse than anybody ever anticipated”.
At Jinks Middle School in Panama City, the storm tore off part of the gym roof and one wall, leaving the wooden floor covered in water. A year ago, the school welcomed students and families displaced by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Michael, a category-4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane intensity scale when it came ashore, was causing flash flooding in parts of North Carolina and Virginia, where some areas could get as much as 23cm of rain, the National Hurricane Centre said. The number of people in emergency shelters was expected to reach 20,000 across five states today.
Michael pummelled the Panhandle and turned streets into roof-high waterways.
Brad Rippey, a meteorologist for the US Agriculture Department, said Michael had severely damaged cotton, timber, pecan and peanuts, causing estimated liabilities as high as $US1.9 billion ($2.7bn) and affecting up to 1.5 million hectares. Michael also disrupted energy operations in the US Gulf of Mexico as it approached land, cutting crude oil production by more than 40 per cent and natural gas output by nearly one-third.
It was the third-strongest storm to hit continental US, behind only Hurricane Camille on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1969 and the Labour Day hurricane of 1935 in the Florida Keys.
The roof of a boat storage facility is torn off in Panama City; right, homes destroyed in Mexico Beach