PANAMA CITY, Fla. -- Powerful Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle with terrifying winds of 155 mph Wednesday, splintering homes and submerging neighborhoods before continuing its destructive march 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 (320-kilometer) stretch of white-sand beach resorts, fishing towns and military bases. After it ravaged the Panhandle, Michael entered south Georgia as a Category 3 hurricane -- the most powerful in recorded history for that part of the neighboring state.
In north Florida, 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 388,000 homes and businesses.
A Panhandle man was killed by a tree toppling on a home, Gadsden County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Anglie Hightower said. She said authorities got a call Wednesday evening that the man was trapped but rescue crews were hampered by downed trees and debris blocking roadways. Authorities haven't yet confirmed the man's name.
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 satying 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. She was missing her 1-year-old Siamese cat, Molly.
"We haven't seen her since the tree hit the den. She's my baby," O'Brien said, her face wet with tears.
In Apalachicola, Sally Crown rode out the storm in her house. The worst damage -- she thought -- was in her yard. Multiple trees were down. But after the storm passed, she drove to check on the cafe she manages and saw the scope of the destruction.
"It's absolutely horrendous. Catastrophic," Crown said. "There's flooding. Boats on the highway. A house on the highway. Houses that have been there forever are just shattered."
Gov. Rick Scott announced soon after the powerful eye had swept inland that "aggressive" search and rescue efforts were just beginning and urged people to stay off debris-littered roads.
"If you and your family made it through the storm safely, the worst thing you could do now is act foolishly," he said.
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 further reports on deaths or injuries by nightfall.National on 10/11/2018
Print Headline: Hurricane Michael slams into Florida