Hurricane Michael menaces Panhandle
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A fast and furious Hurricane Michael sped toward the Florida Panhandle on Tuesday with 110 mph winds and a potential storm surge of 12 feet, giving tens of thousands of people precious little time to get out or board up.
Drawing energy from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico with every passing hour, the storm was expected to blow ashore around midday Wednesday near Panama City Beach, along a lightly populated stretch of fishing villages and white-sand spring-break beaches.
While Florence took five days between the time it turned into a hurricane and the moment it rolled into the Carolinas, Michael gave Florida what amounted to two days’ notice. It developed into a hurricane on Monday, and by Tuesday, at least 120,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders.
“We don’t know if it’s going to wipe out our house or not,” Jason McDonald, of Panama City, said as he and his wife drove north into Alabama
with their two children, ages 5 and 7. “We want to get them out of the way.”
Coastal residents rushed to board up their homes and sandbag their properties against the hurricane, which was speeding northward at 12 mph.
As of 2 p.m. EDT, Michael had winds of 110 mph, just below a Category 3 hurricane, and was getting stronger as it moved over Gulf waters in the mid-80s. Its hurricane-force winds extended up to 35 miles from its center.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned it was a “monstrous hurricane,” and his Democratic opponent for the Senate, Sen. Bill Nelson, said a “wall of water” could cause destruction along the Panhandle.
“Don’t think that you can ride this out if you’re in a low-lying area,” Nelson said on CNN.
But some officials were worried by what they weren’t seeing — a rush of evacuees.
“I am not seeing the level of traffic on the roadways that I would expect when we’ve called for the evacuation of 75 percent of this county,” Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said.
Aja Kemp, 36, planned to stay in her mobile home in Crawfordville. She worked all night stocking shelves at a bigbox store that was closing later Tuesday, then got to work securing her yard.
Kemp said the bill totaled over $800 when she and her family fled Hurricane Irma’s uncertain path last year.
“I just can’t bring myself to spend that much money,” she said. “We’ve got supplies to last us a week. Plenty of water. I made sure we’ve got clean clothes. We got everything tied down.”
In the dangerous exposed coastal town of Apalachicola, population 2,500, Sally Crown planned to go home and hunker down with her two dogs.
“We’ve been through this before,” she said. “This might be really bad and serious. But in my experience, it’s always blown way out of proportion.”
Mandatory evacuation orders went into effect in Bay County for some 120,000 people in Panama City Beach and other low-lying areas in the bull’s-eye.