Six dead as Michael rips through Florida Pan­han­dle

The Weekend Australian - - WORLD -

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


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