Devastating Michael a ‘nightmare’ in Florida
Hurricane packs historic ferocity as it strikes, heads up Southeast coast
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.
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.