Mon­ster Michael

Third-strong­est hur­ri­cane ever to hit US main­land slams into Florida

The Mercury News - - Front Page - By Kevin Be­gos, Mark Ber­man, Luz Lazo and Joel Achen­bach

Late-bloom­ing and sud­denly his­toric Hur­ri­cane Michael smashed into the Florida Pan­han­dle on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon with roof-peel­ing winds of 155 mph and a storm surge that scraped homes from their foun­da­tions. An Oc­to­ber sur­prise that raced across the Gulf, Michael could go down in the record books as the third-strong­est hur­ri­cane to hit the con­ti­nen­tal United States.

“We’re kind of get­ting crushed,” Franklin County Sher­iff A.J. Smith said as the storm came ashore west of Apalachicola. “It’s hor­rific.”

The first con­firmed re­port of a storm-

re­lated fa­tal­ity came in Wed­nes­day night, when of­fi­cials in Gads­den County, near Tal­la­has­see, said that a man was found dead in his home af­ter a tree crashed through the roof dur­ing the storm. There ap­peared to be a swath of sig­nif­i­cant dam­age that stretched from the coast to ar­eas well in­land, with Michael’s winds snap­ping trees, top­pling power lines and in some cases oblit­er­at­ing homes.

The pow­er­ful eastern side of the storm clob­bered the mod­est coastal com­mu­nity of Mex­ico Beach, where some struc­tures dis­in­te­grated into piles of wood amid mas­sive waves and heavy flood­ing. In nearby Panama City, homes were shred­ded and boats tossed. In Mar­i­anna, Florida, about 18 miles south of the Alabama state line, Michael’s eye tore through the com­mu­nity.

“I had a yard full of 20-inch pine trees and there’s not one left stand­ing,” said Chad Tay­lor, 66, a land man­ager in Mar­i­anna. “I can see for miles and miles,” he added, quot­ing the rock band the Who. “Mar­i­anna’s de­stroyed.”

Power out­ages soared through the day, reach­ing more than 300,000 by Wed­nes­day evening, with nearly 90 per­cent of Bay County — home to Mex­ico Beach and Panama City — los­ing power. Nearby Lib­erty County had 81 per­cent of ac­counts with­out power, the state re­ported.

Bay Med­i­cal Sa­cred Heart hospi­tal in Panama City re­ported on Twit­ter that it suf­fered blown-out win­dows, a cracked wall and roof dam­age, and had shifted pa­tients to safe ar­eas while the hospi­tal ran on gen­er­a­tor power.

The bayfront city of Apalachicola, Florida’s oys­ter cap­i­tal, suf­fered se­vere flood­ing and prop­erty dam­age along aptly named Wa­ter Street, home to sev­eral restau­rants. The city was tem­po­rar­ily cut off from the rest of the state, with U.S. High­way 98 to the west blocked by pine trees and oak branches; go­ing east was un­think­able be­cause the cause­way had van­ished un­der the el­e­vated wa­ter of Apalachicola Bay.

Smith, the Franklin County sher­iff, said the county-run hospi­tal had closed, and am­bu­lance staff had evacuated — to his dis­may.

“I don’t get it,” Smith said Wed­nes­day morn­ing. “Would I like to get out of here? Heck yeah. Am I leav­ing? No.”

For­mer Franklin County plan­ner Alan Pierce said af­ter the storm blew through that the area en­dured a storm surge as high as 10 feet. Of­fi­cials were still try­ing to de­ter­mine dam­age on bar­rier is­lands, in­clud­ing St. George Is­land, which has a state park, a small cen­tral busi­ness district and a gated com­mu­nity of lux­ury homes.

“It’s bad,” Pierce said. He noted that the wind gauge at the county air­port blew off af­ter record­ing gusts of 90 mph.

Other states felt the storm’s im­pact as it moved deeper into the South­east. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey closed state of­fices and build­ings in more than a dozen coun­ties. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper de­clared the se­cond statewide state of emergency in as many months. He said the storm could do dam­age in ar­eas still reel­ing from the flood­ing Hur­ri­cane Florence caused in Septem­ber, with hous­ing re­pairs there still in the early stages.

“I’ve seen a lot blue tarps as I’ve trav­eled across the state,” Cooper said. “These trop­i­cal storm force winds could cause a lot of prob­lems.”

Cooper an­nounced a plan for $1.5 bil­lion in ad­di­tional state fund­ing to cover part of the es­ti­mated $13 bil­lion cost of Hur­ri­cane Florence. He is re­quest­ing legislators ap­prove a $750 mil­lion down pay­ment for the re­cov­ery pack­age when they re­turn to Raleigh next week to re­sume a spe­cial ses­sion called af­ter the dis­as­ter. He said the to­tal cost of the storm is likely to sur­pass the costs of hur­ri­canes Matthew (2016) and Floyd (1999) com­bined.

Michael seemed to have caught everyone off guard, from me­te­o­rol­o­gists who study trop­i­cal cy­clones to the long­time res­i­dents who chose to hun­ker down rather than evac­u­ate.

A mere trop­i­cal de­pres­sion just three days ear­lier, Michael in­ten­si­fied ex­plo­sively as it rolled north in the warm Gulf of Mex­ico and into the shal­low wa­ters of the con­ti­nen­tal shelf. It was ul­ti­mately a Cat­e­gory 4 storm on the Saf­fir-Simp­son scale, just a cou­ple of miles per hour shy of reach­ing Cat­e­gory 5.

It was the most pow­er­ful trop­i­cal storm ever to hit the Florida Pan­han­dle since record-keep­ing be­gan in 1851. Just two hur­ri­canes have ever hit the U.S. with baro­met­ric pres­sure read­ings in the eye — a key met­ric of a storm’s ef­fects — lower than the 919 mil­libars of Michael. They were the 1935 La­bor Day storm (892 mb) that struck the Florida Keys, and Hur­ri­cane Camille (900 mb), which killed hun­dreds when it hit coastal Mis­sis­sippi in 1969.

“This storm went from a trop­i­cal storm to a pro­jected Cat 3 at land­fall in 6 hours yes­ter­day,” Brad Kieser­man, vice pres­i­dent for dis­as­ter op­er­a­tions and lo­gis­tics for Amer­i­can Red Cross, said in a tele­con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day. “It’s not be­hav­ing nor­mally. It in­ten­si­fied ex­tremely quickly. It didn’t give any­one time to do much. And the one thing you can’t get back in a dis­as­ter is time.”

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said of the hur­ri­cane: “It’s like a big tor­nado, a mas­sive tor­nado.” He said the storm “grew into a mon­ster.”

The storm’s path and the need for emergency man­age­ment po­ten­tially car­ried po­lit­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance for Repub­li­can Gov. Rick Scott, who is run­ning for the U.S. Se­nate against Demo­cratic in­cum­bent Bill Nel­son, and for Tal­la­has­see Mayor An­drew Gil­lum, a Demo­crat who is seek­ing to suc­ceed Scott in a con­test against Repub­li­can Ron DeSan­tis.

“We’re turn­ing 100 per­cent of our fo­cus on searc­hand-res­cue and re­cov­ery,” Scott said in a late-day news brief­ing.

The gov­er­nor said he’s re­ceived re­ports of “sig­nif­i­cant” dam­age at Tyn­dall Air Force Base as well as in Panama City, Mex­ico Beach and through­out Bay County. Two “dev­as­tat­ing tor­na­does” touched down in Gaston County, he said.

“We are de­ploy­ing a mas­sive wave of re­sponses by land, air and sea,” he said.

A storm chaser climbs into his ve­hi­cle to re­trieve equip­ment un­der a col­lapsed ho­tel canopy af­ter Hur­ri­cane Michael reached land­fall in Panama City Beach, Fla., on Wed­nes­day.

Jane Lind­sey tries to sal­vage her dolls from the wa­ter run­ning into her store af­ter Hur­ri­cane Michael passed through Panama City, Fla. The hur­ri­cane hit the Florida Pan­han­dle with 155 mph winds.

Boats lay sunk and dam­aged Wed­nes­day at the ma­rina in Port St. Joe, Fla. Su­per­charged by ab­nor­mally warm wa­ters in the Gulf of Mex­ico, Hur­ri­cane Michael slammed into the Florida Pan­han­dle with winds of 155 mph Wed­nes­day.

Ha­ley Nel­son in­spects dam­age to her fam­ily prop­er­ties in Panama City, Fla., af­ter Hur­ri­cane Michael made land­fall in Florida’s Pan­han­dle on Wed­nes­day. The hur­ri­cane splin­tered homes and sub­merged neigh­bor­hoods be­fore con­tin­u­ing its march in­land.

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