Hur­ri­cane Michael slams into Florida, South­east U.S.

Yuma Sun - - OPINION -

PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Hur­ri­cane Michael slammed into the Florida Pan­han­dle with ter­ri­fy­ing winds of 155 mph Wed­nes­day, splin­ter­ing homes and sub­merg­ing neigh­bor­hoods be­fore con­tin­u­ing its de­struc­tive charge in­land across the South­east. It was the most pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane to hit the con­ti­nen­tal U.S. in nearly 50 years and at least one death was re­ported dur­ing its pas­sage.

Su­per­charged by ab­nor­mally warm wa­ters of the Gulf of Mex­ico, the Cat­e­gory 4 storm crashed ashore in the early af­ter­noon near Mex­ico Beach, a tourist town about mid­way along the Pan­han­dle, a 200-mile stretch of white-sand beach re­sorts, fish­ing towns and mil­i­tary bases. Af­ter it rav­aged the Pan­han­dle, Michael bar­reled into south Ge­or­gia as a Cat­e­gory 3 hur­ri­cane — the most pow­er­ful ever recorded for that part of the neigh­bor­ing state. It later weak­ened to a Cat­e­gory 1 hur­ri­cane, and there were re­ports it spawned pos­si­ble tor­na­does in cen­tral Ge­or­gia.

In north Florida, Michael bat­tered the shore­line with side­ways rain, pow­er­ful gusts and crash­ing waves, swamp­ing streets and docks, flat­ten­ing trees, shred­ding awnings and peel­ing away shin­gles. It set off trans­former ex­plo­sions and knocked out power to more than 388,000 homes and busi­nesses.

A Pan­han­dle man was killed by a tree that top­pled on a home, Gads­den County Sher­iff’s Of­fice spokes­woman Anglie Hightower said. But she added emer­gency crews try­ing to reach the home were ham­pered by downed trees and de­bris block­ing road­ways. The man wasn’t im­me­di­ately iden­ti­fied.

Dam­age in Panama City was ex­ten­sive, with bro­ken and up­rooted trees and power lines down nearly ev­ery­where. Roofs were peeled off and homes split open by fallen trees. Twisted street signs lay on the ground. Res­i­dents emerged in the early evening to as­sess dam­age when rains stopped, though skies were still over­cast and windy.

Vance Beu, 29, was stay­ing with his mother at her apart­ment, Spring Gate Apart­ments, a small com­plex of sin­gle-story wood frame apart­ment build­ings. A pine tree punched a hole in their roof and he said the roar of the storm sounded like a jet en­gine as the winds ac­cel­er­ated. Their ears even popped as the baro­met­ric pres­sure dropped.

“It was ter­ri­fy­ing, hon­estly. There was a lot of noise. We thought the win­dows were go­ing to break at any time. We had the in­side win­dows kind of bar­ri­caded in with mat­tresses,” Beu said.

Kaylee O’Brien was cry­ing as she sorted through the re­mains of the apart­ment she shared with three room­mates at Whis­per­ing Pines apart­ments, where the smell of bro­ken pine trees was thick in the air. Four pine trees had crashed through the roof of her apart­ment, nearly hit­ting two peo­ple. Her 1-yearold Si­amese cat, Molly, was miss­ing.

“We haven’t seen her since the tree hit the den. She’s my baby,” O’Brien said, her face wet with tears.

Gov. Rick Scott an­nounced soon af­ter the pow­er­ful eye had swept in­land that “ag­gres­sive” search and res­cue ef­forts would get un­der­way as con­di­tions al­lowed. He urged peo­ple to stay off de­bris­lit­tered roads.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

PEO­PLE WALK THROUGH DOWNED TREES in a heav­ily dam­aged neigh­bor­hood in the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Michael in Panama City, Fla., Wed­nes­day.

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