A ‘NIGHT­MARE’ SLAMS FLORIDA

Hur­ri­cane Michael lands with cat­a­strophic force Storm surge comes ‘with a vengeance’

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Rick Neale, Doyle Rice and John Ba­con USA TO­DAY

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 Cat­e­gory 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.

“This is a night­mare hur­ri­cane for the Big Bend. Michael will be of a land­fall in­ten­sity not seen for at least 100 years, and per­haps more.”

Ryan Truchelut Chief me­te­o­rol­o­gist at WeatherTiger

“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.”

Be­fore even be­fore land­fall, Long had omi­nous words for those who stayed.

“Those who stick around to wit­ness storm surge don’t typ­i­cally live to talk about it.”

But 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 at a news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day. “If you are in an in­land county you might have one more chance to evac­u­ate, but only if lo­cal of­fi­cials say it is safe.”

Scott said 1,000 search and res­cue work­ers were ready to re­spond as soon as Michael passed. An­other 3,500 Na­tional Guard mem­bers were ready to de­ploy, he said.

Michael’s baro­met­ric pres­sure at land­fall was 919 mil­libars, by that mea­sure­ment the third-strong­est hur­ri­cane to hit the U.S. on record, trail­ing the 1935 La­bor Day Hur­ri­cane and Hur­ri­cane Camille in 1969.

Gale and James Berry fled to a city shel­ter in Lin­coln High School’s cafe­te­ria. Gale Berry, 59, said their neigh­bor- hood was lit­tered with de­bris and downed trees af­ter Hur­ri­cane Her­mine, which made land­fall in 2016 as a Cat­e­gory 1 storm. She had no in­ter­est in rid­ing out a Cat­e­gory 4 in her mo­bile home.

“You don’t want to have to stay there,” she said. “You could die.”

More than 4 mil­lion peo­ple were un- der hur­ri­cane warn­ings, from the Pan­han­dle and Big Bend ar­eas in Florida into parts of south­east­ern Alabama and south­ern Ge­or­gia. Heavy rain­fall will drench Florida’s Pan­han­dle, Alabama, Ge­or­gia and South Carolina; up to 12 inches is pos­si­ble in iso­lated spots.

On its cur­rent track, the core of Michael is ex­pected to move north­east­ward across the south­east­ern U.S. on Wed­nes­day night and Thurs­day, then move off the Mid-At­lantic coast on Fri­day.

Ba­con and Rice re­ported from Mclean, Va. Con­tribut­ing: Steve Kig­gins, Wayne Price and Nada Has­sanein, USA TO­DAY Net­work; The As­so­ci­ated Press

GER­ALD HER­BERT/AP

A storm chaser re­trieves equip­ment from his car af­ter a ho­tel canopy fell in Panama City Beach, Fla.

KINFAY MOROTI/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

Hur­ri­cane Michael knocked down hun­dreds of trees Wed­nes­day in Tallahassee, Fla.

AN­DREW WEST/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

Panama City res­i­dents Colin and Kim Corry watch as the storm ap­proaches Wed­nes­day. They planned to ride it out.

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