Michael thrashes Florida

It pum­mels pan­han­dle, then heads to Ge­or­gia


PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Hur­ri­cane Michael slammed Wed­nes­day into the Florida pan­han­dle with winds of 155 mph, splin­ter­ing homes and sub­merg­ing neigh­bor­hoods be­fore con­tin­u­ing its de­struc­tive march in­land across the South­east.

It was the most pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane to hit the con­ti­nen­tal U.S. in nearly 50 years, and at least one death was re­ported dur­ing its pas­sage.

Su­per­charged by ab­nor­mally warm wa­ters in the Gulf of Mex­ico, the Cat­e­gory 4 storm made land­fall just be­fore 1 p.m. near Mex­ico Beach, a tourist town about mid­way along the pan­han­dle. Af­ter it moved through the pan­han­dle, Michael en­tered south Ge­or­gia as a Cat­e­gory 3 hur­ri­cane — the most pow­er­ful in recorded his­tory for that part of the state. It later weak­ened to a trop­i­cal storm, and there were re­ports that it spawned tor­na­does in cen­tral Ge­or­gia.

In north Florida, Michael bat­tered the shore­line with side­ways rain, pow­er­ful gusts and crash­ing waves, swamp­ing streets and docks, flat­ten­ing trees, shred­ding awnings and peel­ing away shin­gles. It

also set off trans­former ex­plo­sions and knocked out power to more than 388,000 homes and busi­nesses.

A pan­han­dle man was killed by a tree that top­pled onto a home, Gads­den County sher­iff’s of­fice spokesman Anglie Hightower said. She said au­thor­i­ties got a call Wed­nes­day evening that the man was trapped, but res­cue crews were ham­pered in reach­ing him be­cause of downed trees and de­bris block­ing road­ways.

Dam­age in Panama City was ex­ten­sive, with bro­ken and up­rooted trees and power lines down nearly ev­ery­where. Roofs were peeled off and homes were split open by fallen trees. Res­i­dents emerged from their shel­ters in the early evening to as­sess dam­age when the rain stopped, though it was still windy and skies were still over­cast.

Vance Beu, 29, was stay­ing with his mother at Spring Gate Apart­ments, a small com­plex of sin­gle-story, wood-frame apart­ment build­ings. A pine tree punched a hole in their roof, and he said the roar of the storm sounded like a jet en­gine as the winds ac­cel­er­ated. Their ears popped as the baro­met­ric pres­sure dropped.

“It was ter­ri­fy­ing, hon­estly. There was a lot of noise. We thought the win­dows were go­ing to break at any time. We had the in­side win­dows kind of bar­ri­caded in with mat­tresses,” Beu said.

Kaylee O’Brien was cry­ing as she searched the re­mains of the apart­ment she shared with three room­mates at Whis­per­ing Pines apart­ments, where the smell of bro­ken pine trees was thick in the air. Four pine trees had crashed through the roof of her apart­ment. She was miss­ing her 1-year-old Si­amese cat, Molly.

“We haven’t seen her since the tree hit the den. She’s my baby,” O’Brien said.

In Apalachicola, Sally Crown rode out the storm in her house. The worst dam­age — she thought — was in her yard. Mul­ti­ple trees were down. But af­ter the storm passed, she drove to check on the cafe she man­ages and saw the scope of the de­struc­tion.

“It’s ab­so­lutely hor­ren­dous. Cat­a­strophic,” Crown said. “There’s flood­ing. Boats on the high­way. A house on the high­way. Houses that have been there for­ever are just shat­tered.”

In Mex­ico Beach, pop­u­la­tion 1,000, the storm shat­tered homes, leav­ing float­ing piles of lum­ber. The lead-gray wa­ter was so high that roofs were about all that could be seen of many homes.

In Panama City, ply­wood and metal flew off the front of a Hol­i­day Inn Ex­press. Part of the awning fell and shat­tered the glass front door of the ho­tel, and the rest of the awning wound up on ve­hi­cles parked below it.

The wind whipped up white­caps in the ho­tel swim­ming pool.

“We are in new ter­ri­tory,” Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter me­te­o­rol­o­gist Den­nis Felt­gen wrote on Face­book. “The his­tor­i­cal record, go­ing back to 1851, finds no Cat­e­gory 4 hur­ri­cane ever hit­ting the Florida pan­han­dle.”

Only a skeleton staff re­mained at Tyn­dall Air Force Base, sit­u­ated on a penin­sula just south of Panama City. Hun­dreds of mil­i­tary fam­i­lies were moved out, and the base’s air­craft, which in­clude F-22 Rap­tors, were flown to safety hun­dreds of miles away. The Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter re­ported a 130 mph wind gust near the evac­u­ated base and said that the mea­sur­ing in­stru­ment had then failed.

Gov. Rick Scott an­nounced soon af­ter the pow­er­ful eye had swept in­land that “ag­gres­sive” search-and-res­cue ef­forts were just be­gin­ning and urged peo­ple to stay off de­bris-lit­tered roads.

“If you and your fam­ily made it through the storm safely, the worst thing you could do now is act fool­ishly,” he said.

With the hur­ri­cane still pound­ing the state hours af­ter it moved ashore and con­di­tions too danger­ous in places for search-and-res­cue teams to go out, there were no fur­ther re­ports of deaths or in­juries by night­fall.

Michael was a me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal brute that sprang quickly from a week­end trop­i­cal de­pres­sion, strength­en­ing from a Cat­e­gory 2 on Tues­day to a Cat­e­gory 4 by the time it rolled ashore Wed­nes­day. It was the most pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane on record to hit the pan­han­dle.

More than 375,000 peo­ple up and down the Gulf Coast were urged to evac­u­ate as Michael closed in. But the fast-mov­ing, fast-strength­en­ing storm didn’t give peo­ple much time to pre­pare, and emer­gency au­thor­i­ties lamented that many ig­nored the warn­ings and seemed to think they could ride it out.

The Amer­i­can Red Cross said about 4,000 peo­ple slept in shel­ters Tues­day.

Diane Far­ris, 57, and her son walked to a high schoolturned-shel­ter near their home in Panama City to find about 1,100 peo­ple crammed into a space meant for about half that many. Nei­ther she nor her son had any way to com­mu­ni­cate be­cause their lone cell­phone got wet and quit work­ing.

“I’m wor­ried about my daugh­ter and grand­baby. I don’t know where they are. You know, that’s hard,” she said.

Hur­ri­cane-force winds ex­tended up to 45 miles from Michael’s cen­ter at the height of the storm. Fore­cast­ers said rain­fall could reach up to a foot in spots. And then there was the life-threat­en­ing storm surge to deal with.

A wa­ter-level sta­tion in Apalachicola, close to where Michael churned ashore, re­ported a surge of nearly 8 feet.

Based on its in­ter­nal baro­met­ric pres­sure, Michael was the third-most-pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane to hit the U.S. main­land, be­hind the un­named La­bor Day storm of 1935 and Camille in 1969. Based on wind speed, it was the fourth-strongest, be­hind the La­bor Day storm, Camille and An­drew in 1992.

Five states have de­clared states of emer­gency be­cause of Hur­ri­cane Michael: Florida, Alabama, Ge­or­gia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster noted in his order that his state is still deal­ing with flood­wa­ters left be­hind by Hur­ri­cane Florence, which tore through the Caroli­nas last month. McMaster said that given the lin­ger­ing flood­wa­ters, Michael poses “a sig­nif­i­cant threat” to South Carolina.

Fed­eral of­fi­cials said they are in po­si­tion and pre­pared to help the South­east re­spond to Hur­ri­cane Michael, which they de­scribed as a par­tic­u­larly danger­ous sys­tem.

“Un­for­tu­nately, Hur­ri­cane Michael is a hur­ri­cane of the worst kind,” Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency Ad­min­is­tra­tor Brock Long said as he briefed Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

“Ma­jor hur­ri­canes cause large losses of life and the most amount of de­struc­tion that hur­ri­canes can bring for­ward,” he said.

Long ex­tended his warn­ing to other parts of the South­east, say­ing this could be the worst storm to hit south­west and cen­tral Ge­or­gia in “many, many decades — and maybe ever.

“The cit­i­zens in Ge­or­gia need to wake up and pay at­ten­tion,” he said. Be­yond that, Long said, the storm could de­liver un­wel­come rain­fall to parts of the Caroli­nas still re­cov­er­ing from Florence’s deadly flood­ing.

At a cam­paign event Wed­nes­day in Penn­syl­va­nia, Trump of­fered his “thoughts and prayers” to those in the storm’s path and promised to “spare no ef­fort” in the re­sponse.

He added: “We will al­ways pull through. … We will al­ways be suc­cess­ful at what we do.”

His of­fice said he would tour the dev­as­tated ar­eas next week.

“We are in new ter­ri­tory. The his­tor­i­cal record, go­ing back to 1851, finds no Cat­e­gory 4 hur­ri­cane ever hit­ting the Florida pan­han­dle.” — Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter me­te­o­rol­o­gist Den­nis Felt­gen, on Face­book

The New York Times/ERIC THAYERA woman (above) walks through flood­wa­ter and storm de­bris near a dam­aged apart­ment build­ing Wed­nes­day in Panama City, Fla., af­ter Hur­ri­cane Michael slammed the Gulf Coast. At left, Kaylee O’Brien cries at not be­ing able to find her Si­amese cat af­ter trees fell on her now-de­stroyed home in Panama City. Dam­age in Panama City was ex­ten­sive, with bro­ken and up­rooted trees, and power lines down nearly ev­ery­where.



The storm surge re­treats Wed­nes­day at the ma­rina at Port St. Joe, Fla., af­ter scat­ter­ing boats and rip­ping up the docks.

AP/Mi­ami Her­ald/PE­DRO POR­TAL

Ha­ley Nel­son stands in the wreck­age of her fam­ily’s prop­erty Wed­nes­day in Panama City, Fla., where Hur­ri­cane Michael caused ex­ten­sive dam­age when it slammed ashore.


A res­i­dent of St. Marks, Fla., col­lects a cooler from flood­wa­ter near his home Wed­nes­day.

AP/Mi­ami Her­ald/PE­DRO POR­TAL

Hur­ri­cane Michael’s eye (mid­dle im­age) is well-de­fined as seen from the space sta­tion Wed­nes­day. Hur­ri­cane-force winds top­pled the arches (lower photo) at a McDon­ald’s in Panama City, Fla.

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