Hur­ri­cane Michael slams into Florida, charges in­land


PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Hur­ri­cane Michael slammed into the Florida Pan­han­dle with ter­ri­fy­ing winds of 155 mph Wed­nes­day, splin­ter­ing homes and sub­merg­ing neigh­bor­hoods be­fore con­tin­u­ing its de­struc­tive charge 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 of the Gulf of Mex­ico, the Cat­e­gory 4 storm crashed ashore in the early af­ter­noon near Mex­ico Beach, a tourist town about mid­way along the Pan­han­dle, a 200-mile stretch of white­sand beach re­sorts, fish­ing towns and mil­i­tary bases. Af­ter it rav­aged the Pan­han­dle, Michael bar­reled into south Ge­or­gia as a Cat­e­gory 3 hur­ri­cane – the most pow­er­ful ever recorded for that part of the neigh­bor­ing state.

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 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 on a home, Gads­den County

Sher­iff’s Of­fice spokes­woman Anglie Hightower said. But she added emergency crews try­ing to reach the home were ham­pered by downed trees and de­bris block­ing road­ways. The man wasn’t im­me­di­ately iden­ti­fied. Dam­age in Panama City was ex­ten­sive, with bro­ken and up­rooted trees and power lines down nearly ev­ery­where. Roofs were peeled off and homes split open by fallen trees. Twisted street signs lay on the ground. Res­i­dents emerged in the early evening to as­sess dam­age when rains stopped, though skies were still over­cast and windy.

Vance Beu, 29, was stay­ing with his mother at her apart­ment, 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 even 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 sorted through 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, nearly hit­ting two peo­ple. Her 1-year-old Si­amese cat, Molly, was miss­ing.

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

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 breath­tak­ing 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.”

Gov. Rick Scott an­nounced soon af­ter the pow­er­ful eye had swept in­land that “ag­gres­sive” search and res­cue ef­forts would get un­der­way as con­di­tions al­lowed. He 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.

Michael was a me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal brute that sprang quickly from a week­end trop­i­cal de­pres­sion, go­ing from a Cat­e­gory 2 on Tues­day to a Cat­e­gory 4 by the time it came ashore. 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.

Diane Far­ris, 57, and her son walked to a high school-turned-shel­ter near their Panama City home, where about 1,100 peo­ple crammed into a space meant for about half as many.

Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford

Hur­ri­cane Michael leaves dam­aged homes in its wake in Panama City Beach, Fla., on Wed­nes­day.


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