Hur­ri­cane Michael men­aces Pan­han­dle

The Progress-Index - - FRONT PAGE - By Bren­dan Farrington and Tamara Lush

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.

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