At least six killed by Hurricane Michael in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina
Tropical Storm Michael continues to march through the Southeast, still packing powerful winds and flood-causing rains.
Michael made landfall in the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday as a “potentially catastrophic” Category 4 hurricane – the strongest on record to hit the area – and charged north through Georgia and into the Carolinas, wreaking havoc and causing emergencies. In the storm’s wake lay crushed and flooded buildings, shattered lives and at least six deaths, a number that officials worry could rise.
Authorities said Thursday they have linked at least six deaths in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina to the storm, a toll officials have worried could rise as search and rescue efforts continue.
In Florida, the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office reported four deaths related to the storm. A spokeswoman said that one man was killed when a tree crashed through the roof of his home in Greensboro. The sheriff’s office said that it also had three other “storm-related fatalities following Hurricane Michael,” although it did not immediately release further information about what happened beyond saying that all four deaths were “in relation to or occurred during the storm.”
Gadsden, a county in northwest Florida not far from Tallahassee, took a direct shot from Michael as it churned northward on Wednesday.
In North Carolina, a 38-year-old man was killed Thursday afternoon shortly before 1 p.m. in Iredell County, north of Charlotte, when a tree fell on the vehicle he was driving, according to David Souther, the county’s fire marshal.
And in Georgia, officials in Seminole County, on the Florida border, said early Thursday said an 11-year-old girl in a mobile home was killed by a metal carport that was thrown in the air by Michael’s gusting winds.
William “Brock” Long, the FEMA administrator, said early Thursday that “search and rescue is where we are hyper-focused this morning.” He warned that the death toll may go up, saying in an appearance on CNN that “those numbers could climb as search-andrescue teams get out.”
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, D, on Thursday declared a state of emergency in advance of the storm’s impact, warning people in the commonwealth to get ready for a sizable hit from the
“I want to urge all Virginians to prepare for the serious possibility of flash floods, tropical storm force winds, tornadoes and power outages,” Northam said in a statement.
In his executive order, Northam said he was activating the state’s emergency operations center as well as the Virginia National Guard.
Northam’s announcement comes after officials in the five states already hit by Michael – Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and North Carolina – all declared emergencies.
Much of Virginia was under tornado watches and flash flood watches Thursday, with rainfall of up to seven inches predicted in some parts of the state, a total that could lead to dangerous flooding.
Michael pummeled Tyndall Air Force Base, near Panama City, Florida, causing “widespread roof damage to nearly every home and leaving the base closed until further notice, officials said.
Tyndall is located just east of Panama City, which endured punishing winds and took intense rain from the storm.
“At this point, Tyndall residents and evacuated personnel should remain at their safe location,” said Col. Brian Laidlaw, 325th Fighter Wing commander. “We are actively developing plans to reunite families and plan to provide safe passage back to base housing.”
In a statement, officials said the that the “catastrophic” storm delivered a direct hit to the base, “bringing down trees and power lines, ripping roofs off buildings and causing significant structural damage.”
Michael’s winds topped 150 miles per hour. No injuries have so far been reported, the base said, but the condition of Tyndall’s runway is not yet known.
Tyndall’s mandatory evacuation order was declared Monday, and it remains in effect. The 600 families who live on base were offered space in local shelters.
“Initial assessments of the damage at Tyndall Air Force base have identified severe damage to the base infrastructure,” according to an Air Force official. “There is no power, water or sewer service to the base at this time. All personnel assigned to ride out the storm are accounted for with no injuries. The Air Force is working to conduct aerial surveillance of the damage, to clear a route to the base and to provide security, potable water, latrines and communication equipment. The base will remain closed and Airmen assigned to Tyndall should not plan to return at this time.”
President Donald Trump approved disaster requests for Georgia and Florida stemming from the hurricane, moves that authorize federal authorities to coordinate response efforts while also opening up federal funding to officials in those areas.
The White House said Trump declared a major disaster in Florida, while FEMA said that he had signed an emergency declaration for Georgia. In remarks Thursday, Trump addressed the hurricane, noting that it had swept through the area quickly.
“The big problem with this hurricane was the tremendous power, and fortunately it was very fast,” he said Thursday. “It went through Florida very, very quickly.”
Although Michael has weakened, it continued to batter the Southeast and the impact will continue to spread in the coming day.
Forecasts now call for Michael to sweep across the Carolinas and then southeast Virginia through the day, dropping up to seven inches of rain in some areas, which could lead to flash flooding. Other areas could see up to three inches of rain, but more than twice that amount could fall in a swath from Charlotte to Richmond and on to Salisbury, Md.
Just as they did last summer in Texas during Hurricane Harvey and last month during Hurricane Florence, several groups of grass-roots, ragtag search-and-rescue teams have arrived in Michael’s wake.
But this time, even the experienced Cajun storm chasers say they are more cautious due to the number of downed trees and telephone poles.
“This one just looks like a bomb dropped,” said Clyde Cain, a self-described admiral with the Louisiana Cajun Navy. “This one is so powerful that my guys are having to use chain saws to cut through downed trees to get into the neighborhoods. This one is just real bad, and no one saw it coming. We were just recovering from Florence.”
Cain, who was at a command center they set up in Mobile, Alabama, said he’s been so busy after Hurricane Florence that “my mama still hasn’t seen me.” He said he was warning his guys this time to be even more careful, “there are a whole lot of telephone poles dropping. This one is just real dangerous.”
As the remnants of Michael began to spread across North Carolina, state officials warned Thursday morning that residents were feeling an impact that would only worsen. Tens of thousands had lost power, at least 16 roads were closed, dozens of school systems shuttered and three rivers were poised for moderate or major flooding, authorities said.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper offered his thoughts for the other states that bore the brunt of the storm, something that North Carolina is grimly familiar with after Hurricane Florence delivered deadly flooding last month.
“People in North Carolina know all too well what that feels like,” he said to his neighbors to the south. “For North Carolina, Michael isn’t as bad as Florence, but it adds unwelcome insult to injury, so we must be on alert.”
The National Hurricane Center said that shortly before 11 a.m., the center of Michael was about 35 miles away from Charlotte and “producing heavy rainfall and tropical-storm-force wind gusts” across much of the central and eastern parts of both Carolinas.
Tropical-storm-force winds extend up to 185 miles from the storm’s center, mostly to the south and east, with a wind gust of 54 mph reported in South Carolina.
“On the forecast track, the center of Michael will continue to move across central and eastern North Carolina today, move across southeastern Virginia this evening, and move into the western Atlantic Ocean tonight,” the hurricane center said.
FEMA chief William “Brock” Long said that Mexico Beach, Florida, not far from where Michael made landfall, appeared to be “ground zero” of the storm’s impact.
A car is seen caught in flood water in Panama City, Fla., after Hurricane Michael made landfall along the Florida panhandle on Wednesday.
A truck hauls boats past a Lowe’s Cos. store damaged after Hurricane Michael hit in Panama City, Fla., on Thursday.