Dev­as­tat­ing Michael a ‘night­mare’ in Flor­ida

Hur­ri­cane packs his­toric fe­roc­ity as it strikes, heads up South­east coast

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Rick Neale, Doyle Rice and John Ba­con

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. – A his­toric Hur­ri­cane Michael made land­fall Wed­nes­day near Mex­ico Beach, pul­ver­iz­ing homes, snap­ping trees and send­ing de­bris fly­ing. At land­fall, it was nearly a Cat­e­gory 5 storm that smashed records as the strong­est ever to roar onto the state's ex­posed Pan­han­dle. High winds and heavy rains lashed the coast. A quar­ter of a mil­lion homes and busi­nesses al­ready were with­out power, and the num­ber was ris­ing rapidly. It could reach into the mil­lions from the "po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic" Cat­e­gory 4 storm with sus­tained

winds of 155 mph – just 2 mph short of Cat 5 sta­tus. By 8 p.m. EDT, the storm’s winds had dropped to Cat­e­gory 1 strength at 90 mph and it was mov­ing north­east at 17 mph. It was cen­tered about 20 miles south­west of Al­bany, Ge­or­gia. So far, one death has been linked to the storm. Au­thor­i­ties say a Flor­ida Pan­han­dle man was killed by a fall­ing tree that crashed into his home in Greens­boro. Gads­den County Sher­iff ’s Of­fice spokes­woman Anglie Hightower says they re­ceived a call around 6 p.m. Wed­nes­day, say­ing a tree smashed through the roof of the house and trapped the vic­tim, whose name was not re­leased. Emer­gency crews were head­ing to the home, but downed power lines and blocked roads were mak­ing the trip dif­fi­cult. The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice in Tal­la­has­see said a hur­ri­cane "of this strength has NEVER made land­fall in this re­gion and thus this is an event that will have un­prece­dented im­pacts." The high winds were knock­ing down trees and power lines. Storm surge, with fore­casts of up to 14 feet in some ar­eas, re­mained a ma­jor con­cern. “It’s his­toric, it’s ex­tremely lifethreat­en­ing,” said Ken­neth Gra­ham, di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter. “This storm surge is com­ing with a vengeance.” Brock Long, ad­min­is­tra­tor at the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency, warned that the storm would stay in­tact as a hur­ri­cane as it roars through the Flor­ida Pan­han­dle and parts of Alabama and Ge­or­gia. The storm could leave wide swaths of the re­gion pow­er­less for weeks, he said. Flor­ida’s Big Bend, a loosely de­fined area of the east­ern Pan­han­dle where the coast­line bends to the south, was brac­ing for the worst. Gra­ham said storm surge will in­un­date the Au­cilla River there to a point where it will “flow back­ward.” “This is a night­mare hur­ri­cane for the Big Bend,” said Ryan Truchelut, chief me­te­o­rol­o­gist at WeatherTiger. “Michael will be of a land­fall in­ten­sity not seen for at least 100 years, and per­haps more.” In Panama City, about 20 miles north­west of Mex­ico Beach, the power went out at Coun­try Inn Suites. The wind howled and rain­wa­ter leaked through the ceil­ing. A light pole top­pled onto an SUV in the park­ing lot. Betty Wexler, 86, lost a beach house to a storm more than 20 years ago. She remembers find­ing her bed frame in the sand, her neigh­bor’s bath­tub sit­ting in­side it. She and her daugh­ter booked a ho­tel room through Fri­day. “I’ve al­ready lost one house to a hur­ri­cane, and I’m scared to death of this one,” she said. Perry and Mol­lie Wil­liams were rid­ing out the storm in their “fortress” home a block from the beach with their three cats and Rot­tweiler. “It’s our first storm (fore­cast) to be on top of us,” Mol­lie Wil­liams, a 17-year res­i­dent, said war­ily. “We’ve had a num­ber of them come into the gulf, and ei­ther come to the left or the right of us. But never on top of us.” Hours be­fore the storm hit, it was too late for many to flee. “The time to evac­u­ate coastal ar­eas has come and gone,” Flor­ida Gov. Rick Scott said Wed­nes­day.

GER­ALD HER­BERT/AP

A storm chaser re­trieves equip­ment from his car dur­ing the eye of the storm Wed­nes­day af­ter a ho­tel canopy fell in Panama City Beach, Fla.

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