Michael ar­rives as one of strongest hur­ri­canes ever to hit the U.S.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Jenny Jarvie and Matt Pearce

PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Hur­ri­cane Michael slammed into the Florida Pan­han­dle on Wed­nes­day as one of the most pow­er­ful storms to hit the United States, flood­ing coastal com­mu­ni­ties and un­leash­ing dev­as­tat­ing winds that scoured cities dozens of miles in­land.

Late in the day, au­thor­i­ties an­nounced the launch of med­i­cal search-and-res­cue mis­sions and sup­ply ship­ments across the re­gion as of­fi­cials sought to eval­u­ate the ex­tent of the dev­as­ta­tion caused by the Cat­e­gory 4 storm, which struck with winds of 155 mph.

“We are de­ploy­ing a mas­sive wave of re­sponse — we will be send­ing help from air, land and sea,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said in a tele­vised news con­fer­ence.

It was too soon to get a clear pic­ture of the scale of the storm’s dam­age, which was ex­pected to be ex­ten­sive. Michael bar­reled in­land to­ward Tal­la­has­see and Ge­or­gia af­ter mak­ing land­fall near the small town of Mex­ico Beach about 1:30 p.m. East­ern time, the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice said.

A man was re­ported killed in Gads­den County,

Fla., af­ter a tree col­lapsed on a home Wed­nes­day evening, ac­cord­ing to the Gads­den County Sher­iff ’s Of­fice.

At a two-story Qual­ity Inn ho­tel in Panama City, some peo­ple who had evac­u­ated their homes had ini­tially gone on a bal­cony to snap pho­tos and video of the storm. The pow­er­ful winds drove them in­side, toss­ing tree limbs across the street and rip­ping off the ho­tel’s road­side sign.

The ho­tel walls shook. In Room 235, Jonathon Klepet­zki, a 30-year-old me­te­o­rol­ogy re­search stu­dent from Jack­sonville, said he heard a wall crack and then watched a chunk of dry­wall hit his flat-screen TV. Above, there were loud thuds as the wind ripped shin­gles off the roof and sid­ing off the build­ing.

Af­ter hud­dling in her room hop­ing the roof didn’t fall off, Rox­anna Scott, 31, a fi­nance worker from Panama City Beach, emerged to a bal­cony strewn with metal pan­els and in­su­la­tion foam. Below, a pine tree had snapped and fallen on a white Ford F-150. “This is scary,” Scott said. In Port St. Joe, south­east of Mex­ico Beach, the wind snapped pine trees in half like match­sticks, send­ing some trunks tum­bling onto power lines. In Wal­ton County, to the west of Panama City Beach, a deputy shot a photo of a yacht that had been blown onto the shore, its sail shred­ded into strips of cloth, still cling­ing to the mast.

Emer­gency of­fi­cials across the re­gion, in fear for their own safety, tem­po­rar­ily stopped re­spond­ing to 911 calls from res­i­dents who hadn’t evac­u­ated. Some area news­rooms lost power, cut­ting off the flow of in­for­ma­tion from lo­cal jour­nal­ists cov­er­ing the storm.

For days, lo­cal res­i­dents and of­fi­cials had braced for Hur­ri­cane Michael’s ar­rival as the storm drew strength from the warm wa­ters of the Gulf of Mex­ico.

In the fi­nal hours be­fore com­ing ashore, the storm’s pres­sure con­tin­ued to drop — a sign that Michael was get­ting stronger, not weaker, as it bore down on the Florida Pan­han­dle, which had no record of fac­ing a hur­ri­cane as pow­er­ful as Michael.

In Mex­ico Beach, vis­i­bil­ity dropped to nearly zero as in­tense winds ripped off roofs and up­rooted signs. Sev­eral feet of storm surge then con­sumed part of the city, flood­ing some homes up to their roofs.

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice said the hur­ri­cane made land­fall just 2 mph short of be­ing clas­si­fied as a Cat­e­gory 5 storm.

Lo­cal me­dia re­ports said that one of the area’s bar­rier is­lands, Dog Is­land, which is ac­ces­si­ble only by boat, was un­der wa­ter. On the main­land coast, pow­er­ful winds had be­gun rip­ping roofs from build­ings and branches from trees as of­fi­cials and res­i­dents hud­dled in shel­ters to ride out the worst of the hur­ri­cane.

The storm swept north­north­west over the north­east­ern Gulf of Mex­ico early Wed­nes­day, gen­er­at­ing of­fi­cial warn­ings for res­i­dents to seek shel­ter.

Michael was fore­cast to lash coastal ar­eas of Florida, Alabama and Ge­or­gia with as much as 12 inches of rain. Far­ther in­land, dam­ag­ing winds, tor­ren­tial rain and life-threat­en­ing flash floods were fore­cast for parts of Ge­or­gia and Alabama.

Be­fore dawn, res­i­dents along the Florida Gulf Coast had scram­bled to shel­ters as the Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter called Michael “po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic” and warned of a life-threat­en­ing storm surge, pow­er­ful winds and tor­ren­tial rain.

More than 2 mil­lion Florida res­i­dents were un­der manda­tory or vol­un­tary evac­u­a­tion or­ders, and a hur­ri­cane warn­ing was in ef­fect from the Alabama state line to the mouth of the Suwan­nee River. A storm surge warn­ing was also in ef­fect from Florida’s Okaloosa-Wal­ton county line to the An­clote River near Tampa.

The Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter ex­pected Michael to move in­land and then weaken as it moved north­east across the south­east­ern United States on Wed­nes­day night and Thurs­day.

As rain bore down in Panama City, a steady stream of evac­uees filled Ruther­ford High School, haul­ing yapping dogs, cry­ing ba­bies, blan­kets, mat­tress pads, oxy­gen tanks, fold­ing chairs, crates of wa­ter and gro­cery bags stuffed with Won­der bread and Dori­tos.

Pa­tri­cia Barnes, a 76year-old re­tired book­keeper, was a bit short of breath and her blood pres­sure was up when she ar­rived at the shel­ter. She had stayed up all night watch­ing the TV news and com­fort­ing her­self with the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my shep­herd; I shall not want.”

Ini­tially, she and her hus­band had planned to ride Michael out at their home in Lynn Haven, a small coastal town seven miles north — un­til they heard it had strength­ened to a Cat­e­gory 4. “It’s bet­ter to be safe,” she said.

Hud­dling in an out­door breeze­way while her sis­ter put her Jack Rus­sell ter­rier, Skooter, in a hall­way re­served for pets, Barnes ap­proached a vol­un­teer: “You got a room for me?”

Shak­ing his head, the vol­un­teer told her he only had space in open hall­ways. He scooped up her blan­kets and pil­lows and ush­ered her to a nar­row hall lined with gray metal lock­ers.

Evac­uees seemed to oc­cupy ev­ery inch of the sprawl­ing brick high school, spread­ing blan­kets and mat­tresses in class­rooms, hall­ways and the cafe­te­ria. Some rested their heads on wooden desks or curled up in sleep­ing bags on linoleum floors, while oth­ers passed the time play­ing cards, read­ing pa­per­backs or mon­i­tor­ing the hur­ri­cane on their cell­phones.

In her rush to find a cab in the mid­dle of the night to get her to the shel­ter, Tamika Rowe, 27, a crim­i­nol­ogy stu­dent who moved to the area a few months ago from Ja­maica, had grabbed im­por­tant doc­u­ments like her birth cer­tifi­cate and pass­port. She had not thought to bring blan­kets or pil­lows.

“It’s not go­ing to be easy sleep­ing,” she said rue­fully af­ter she had picked a nar­row space on a linoleum floor in a hall­way.

More than 50 shel­ters were open across Florida. In Bay County, emer­gency of­fi­cials urged res­i­dents to stay off the roads and warned those who still re­mained in their homes to stay in­side and seek shel­ter in an in­te­rior room with few win­dows.

Ac­cord­ing to me­te­o­rol­o­gists, no Cat­e­gory 4 or 5 hur­ri­cane had made land­fall in the Florida Pan­han­dle since record-keep­ing be­gan in 1851.

The last ma­jor hur­ri­cane to strike this part of Florida was Den­nis, which made land­fall as a Cat­e­gory 3 storm on Santa Rosa Is­land, about 40 miles east of Pen­sacola, in 2005. Since 1950, only two other ma­jor hur­ri­canes have made land­fall in the re­gion: Eloise in 1975 and Opal in 1995.

In 2016, Hur­ri­cane Her­mine reached land as a Cat­e­gory 1 storm, leav­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of res­i­dents with­out elec­tric­ity, in­clud­ing more than 80% of those in the state cap­i­tal, Tal­la­has­see.

“We are with you Florida!” tweeted Pres­i­dent Trump as the storm neared land­fall. He is ex­pected to visit the re­gion next week.

Pe­dro Por­tal Mi­ami Her­ald

IN PANAMA CITY, Fla., Ha­ley Nel­son stands amid the ru­ins of her fam­ily prop­er­ties af­ter Hur­ri­cane Michael made land­fall nearby with 155-mph winds, al­most strong enough to be a Cat­e­gory 5 storm.

Ger­ald Her­bert As­so­ci­ated Press

A HO­TEL worker in Panama City Beach, Fla., holds a door closed as it is shat­tered by f ly­ing de­bris. Search-and-res­cue mis­sions were launched across the area.

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