Hur­ri­cane Michael slams into Flor­ida

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Jay Reeves and Bren­dan Far­ring­ton

PANAMA CITY, FLA. >> Su­per­charged by ab­nor­mally warm wa­ters in the Gulf of Mex­ico, Hur­ri­cane Michael slammed into the Flor­ida Pan­han­dle with ter­ri­fy­ing winds of 155 mph Wed­nes­day, splin­ter­ing homes and sub­merg­ing neigh­bor­hoods. It was the most pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane to hit the con­ti­nen­tal U.S. in nearly 50 years.

Its winds shriek­ing, the Cat­e­gory 4 storm crashed ashore in the early af­ter­noon near Mex­ico Beach, a tourist town about mid­way along the Pan­han­dle, a lightly pop­u­lated, 200-mile stretch of white-sand beach re­sorts, fish­ing towns and mil­i­tary bases.

Michael bat­tered the shore­line

with side­ways rain, pow­er­ful gusts and crash­ing waves, swamp­ing streets and docks, flat­ten­ing trees, stripped away leaves, shred­ding awnings and peel­ing away shin­gles. It also set off trans­former ex­plo­sions and knocked out power to more than 190,000 homes and busi­nesses.

“We are catch­ing some hell,” said Tim­o­thy Thomas, who rode out the storm with his wife in their sec­ond-floor apart­ment in Panama City Beach.

With the hur­ri­cane still pound­ing the state hours af­ter it came ashore, and con­di­tions too dan­ger­ous in places for search-and-res­cue

teams to go out, there were no im­me­di­ate re­ports of any deaths or se­ri­ous in­juries.

Michael was a me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal brute that sprang quickly from a week­end trop­i­cal de­pres­sion, go­ing from a Cat­e­gory 2 on Tues­day to a Cat­e­gory 4 by the time it came ashore. It was the most pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane on record to hit the Pan­han­dle.

“I’ve had to take antacids I’m so sick to my stom­ach to­day be­cause of this im­pend­ing catas­tro­phe,” Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter sci­en­tist Eric Blake tweeted as the storm — draw­ing en­ergy from the un­usu­ally warm, 84-de­gree Gulf wa­ters — be­came more men­ac­ing.

More than 375,000 peo­ple up and down the Gulf

Coast were urged to evac­u­ate as Michael closed in. But the fast-mov­ing, fast strength­en­ing storm didn’t give peo­ple much time to pre­pare, and emer­gency au­thor­i­ties lamented that

many ig­nored the warn­ings and seemed to think they could ride it out.

“While it might be their con­sti­tu­tional right to be an id­iot, it’s not their right to en­dan­ger ev­ery­one else!” Wal­ton County Sher­iff Michael Ad­kin­son tweeted.

Diane Far­ris, 57, and her son walked to a high school-turned-shel­ter near their home in Panama City to find about 1,100 peo­ple crammed into a space meant for about half as many. Nei­ther she nor her son had any way to com­mu­ni­cate be­cause their lone cell­phone got wet and quit work­ing.

“I’m wor­ried about my daugh­ter and grand­baby. I don’t know where they are. You know, that’s hard,” she said, chok­ing back tears.

Hur­ri­cane-force winds ex­tended up to 45 miles from Michael’s cen­ter. Fore­cast­ers said rain­fall could reach up to a foot, and the life-threat­en­ing storm surge could swell to 14 feet.

A wa­ter-level sta­tion in Apalachicola, close to where Michael came ashore, re­ported a surge of nearly 8 feet.

Based on its in­ter­nal baro­met­ric pres­sure, Michael was the third most pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane to hit the U.S. main­land, be­hind the un­named La­bor Day storm of 1935 and Camille in 1969. Based on wind speed, it was the fourth­strongest, be­hind the La­bor Day storm (184 mph, or 296 kph), Camille and An­drew in 1992.

It ap­peared to be so pow­er­ful that it was ex­pected to re­main a hur­ri­cane as it moved into Alabama and Ge­or­gia early Thurs­day. Fore­cast­ers said it will un­leash dam­ag­ing wind and rain all the way into the Caroli­nas, which are still re­cov­er­ing from Hur­ri­cane Florence’s epic flood­ing.

At the White House, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said the gov­ern­ment is “ab­so­lutely ready for the storm.” “God bless ev­ery­one be­cause it’s go­ing to be a rough one,” he said. “A very dan­ger­ous one.”

In Mex­ico Beach, pop­u­la­tion 1,000, the storm shat­tered homes, leav­ing float­ing piles of lum­ber. The lead-gray wa­ter was so high that roofs were about all that could be seen of many homes.

In Panama City, ply­wood and me­tal flew off the front of a Hol­i­day Inn Ex­press. Part of the awning fell and shat­tered the glass front door of the ho­tel, and the rest of the awning wound up on ve­hi­cles parked be­low it.

“Oh my God, what are we see­ing?” said evac­uee Rachel Franklin, her mouth hang­ing open.

The ho­tel swim­ming pool had white­caps, and peo­ple’s ears popped be­cause of the drop in baro­met­ric pres­sure. The roar from the hur­ri­cane sounded like an air­plane tak­ing off.

Me­te­o­rol­o­gists watched satel­lite im­agery in com­plete awe as the storm in­ten­si­fied.

“We are in new ter­ri­tory,” Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter Me­te­o­rol­o­gist Den­nis Felt­gen wrote on Face­book. “The his­tor­i­cal record, go­ing back to 1851, finds no Cat­e­gory 4 hur­ri­cane ever hit­ting the Flor­ida pan­han­dle.”

Colorado State Uni­ver­sity hur­ri­cane ex­pert Phil Klotzbach said in an email: “I re­ally fear for what things are go­ing to look like there to­mor­row at this time.”

The storm is likely to fire up the de­bate over global warm­ing.

Sci­en­tists say global warm­ing is re­spon­si­ble for more in­tense and more fre­quent ex­treme weather, such as storms, droughts, floods and fires. But with­out ex­ten­sive study, they can­not di­rectly link a sin­gle weather event to the chang­ing cli­mate.

Thou­sands of evac­uees sought shel­ter in Tal­la­has­see, which is about 25 miles from the coast but is cov­ered by live oak and pine trees that can fall and cause power out­ages even in smaller storms.

JIM DAMASKE — THE TAMPA BAY TIMES VIA AP

High tide from off­shore Hur­ri­cane Michael creeps up into the Sponge Docks in Tar­pon Springs, Fla., Wed­nes­day af­ter the An­clote River backs up.

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