Red Cross volunteers in Bridgeport get ready to head south

Red Cross volunteers in Bridgeport get ready to head south

Hurricane Michael downgraded to Category 3; officials warn of life-threatening storm surge

When Hurricane Michael made landfall as a high-end Category 4 storm on the Florida Panhandle Wednesday, buildings along the coast were smashed to pieces, storm-surge flooding lapped at the eaves of beach houses, and an Air Force base sustained extensive damage.

One death has been reported in the Panhandle. A Greensboro man was killed when a tree crashed on his home, Gadsden County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Anglie Hightower told the Associated Press. 

WHATS HAPPENING: Carolinas next in line for Michaels fury

From Panama City, through Mexico Beach — where the storm made landfall — and into Apalachicola, houses were swamped or blown apart, roofs were ripped off, boats sank, and trees toppled in the high winds.

"On the forecast track, the core of Michael will move across southwestern and central Georgia tonight, and move through east-central Georgia Thursday morning," the advisory said. "Michael will then move northeastward across the southeastern United States through late Thursday, and then move off the Mid-Atlantic coast by early Friday."

Tyndall Air Force Base, which sits across the bay from Panama City, posted on its Facebook page that the base sustained extensive damage. A wind gust of 129 mph was measured at the base. No injuries were reported. Base personnel had been ordered to evacuate on Monday. The Facebook post said evacuees should plan on being away for an extended time.

After lashing the coast of Florida, rainfall up to 12 inches is possible and may cause flash-flooding inland, the NHC said. But unlike Hurricane Florence, Michael will accelerate Wednesday night and Thursday, preventing any long-term flooding from rainfall, according to Fox News Senior Meteorologist Janice Dean.

The damage extended far inland as well. In Marianna, about 55 miles from Panama City, social media posts showed buildings with collapsed walls and torn off roofs. The police department lost its roof, too. Michael arrived in the city with gusts up to 102 mph.

Video: Supercharged Storm Hits Florida Coast

Officials in Tallahassee, the state capital, tweeted that initial assessments of storm damage were showing lots of downed power lines, power poles, and trees.

Michael knows down trees, power lines in the Florida panhandle

As of 10:30 p.m. EDT, more than 331,000 homes and businesses were without power statewide, most of which were in the areas impacted by the storm, according to PowerOutage.us. The total number of customers without power in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia topped 550,000. 

MIAMI  — Floridas Panhandle is littered with evidence that Hurricane Michael is one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the mainland United States. Roofs and awnings are peeled from buildings, pieces of homes are scattered amid snapped trees and downed power lines, chunks of beaches are washed away. Michael thrashed Georgia as a hurricane and eventually weakened to a tropical storm early Thursday as it moved toward the Carolinas, soaking areas that got swamped last month by Hurricane Florence.

Video: Gov. Scott: Michaels impact will be horrible

Images from Mexico Beach showed widespread devastation with homes reduced to kindling and roofs lying in the middle of U.S. 98. Storm surge lapped at roof eaves.

Michael is shaking up the upcoming election in the battleground state of Florida. The hurricane has given national exposure to Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum , the Democrat running against Republican Ron DeSantis. The publicity could backfire if recovery is delayed ahead of Election Day. President Donald Trump has endorsed Scott and DeSantis.

Patricia Mulligan was in a condo on Mexico Beach when Michael slammed into the town. You cant drive a car anywhere, you cant do anything because its littered with houses, pieces of houses, Mulligan told the New York Times. She said her brother's condo was destroyed as were other units nearby. Theyre not there. Its gone, she said.

Many flights were canceled in the hurricane zone, and Amtrak changed some train schedules to protect passengers and employees. Silver Star trains from New York to Miami were only running from Miami to Jacksonville. The Palmetto between New York and Savannah, Georgia, is only running between New York and Washington beginning Thursday.

“Im so scared”: These Florida trailer park residents couldnt afford to evacuate

Mark Suddath wrote, "Walking thru Mexico Beach to receive my GoPro cam and Im telling you, its DEVASTATED. Truly devastated. Some buildings completely swept clean – only slabs."

Michael isnt alone. The National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Leslie and Tropical Storm Nadine are no threat to land over the open Atlantic Ocean, but Tropical Storm Sergio in the Pacific is blowing toward the Baja California Peninsula on a path across Mexico to the southern U.S. Plains and the Ozarks by the weekend.

Earlier he had written, "Drove from Panama City almost to Mexico Beach and I can tell you this is the worst damage from wind that I have ever seen! Absolutely catastrophic!"

A month after Hurricane Florences epic deluge, South Carolina officials are more concerned about tornadoes than flooding from Michael. The National Weather Service issued multiple tornado warnings in Georgia as Hurricane Michael pushed through the state, and local media report three of them may have touched down.

Man killed in Florida home by fallen tree

Josh Morgerman wrote, "It's hard to convey in words the scale of the catastrophe in Panama City. The whole city looks like a nuke was dropped on it. I'm literally shocked at the scale of the destruction."

Veterinarian Technician Maria Cuchens cares for animals during #HurricaneMichael. She and others are at the shelter making sure our furry friends are taken care of. #AdoptDontShop @NWSTallahassee @weatherchannel @weartv @WJHG_TV @nwfdailynews pic.twitter.com/oaOmHx1gdi

Tweets from a resident of Panama City showed a bank where the windows were blown out and two middle schools had major roof damage. Drone video showed the roof peeled back from the gymnasium at Jinks Middle School. 

WATCH: Jeff Flock in Panama City Beach, FL Amid Powerful Wind Gusts From Hurricane Michael

Vance Beu, 29, was staying with his mother at her Panama City apartment when a pine tree stabbed through the roof. Beu told AP the roar of the storm sounded like a jet engine as the winds accelerated. 

The Freeport High School #HurricaneMichael shelter is currently housing 69 dogs & 18 cats. Volunteers from @WCASFL are assisting evacuees care for their animals. @weartv @WJHG_TV @WMBBTV @nwfdailynews @WZEPAM1460 pic.twitter.com/dPCIa58O44

"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. Four pine trees had crashed through the roof of her apartment, nearly hitting two people. 

Richard Fausset, and Atlanta-based reporter for The New York Times, posted a photo of a group of people huddling in a storage closet at his hotel in Panama City.

The walls collapsed at the Pawaday Inn, a pet grooming and boarding business in Panama City. A Miami Herald reporter tweeted that the dogs survived, but a cat drowned after being trapped. 

In Panama City Beach, WJHG-TV employees were told they could evacuate the station if they felt unsafe, but a few remained inside the building, according to reporter Danielle Ellis. The station lost power a few hours later.

Before the storm made landfall, Scott said he activated 3,500 members of the Florida National Guard. More than 1,000 state forestry and wildlife officers were prepared for search-and-rescue operations, Scott said. He advised tourists and residents that had yet to heed evacuation calls early Wednesday to hunker down, warning, Its going to get worse pretty fast here.

The Panama City News Herald lost power and stayed in operation using a backup generator, but did not have internet access at the office, the Associated Press reported.

On the state side, the impacts to Bay and Franklin counties alone should be more than enough to meet the $27 million threshold for public assistance, Scott wrote. And, the needs of the survivors in those counties should paint a sufficient picture for an individual assistance declaration.

Bay Medical Sacred Heart in Panama City tweeted that hospital "sustained damage including windows blown out, cracking of an exterior wall, and roof damage." The tweet said emergency generators were working, and patients had been moved to safer areas.

Addressing the media at the state Emergency Operations Center Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Rick Scott said a massive wave of response was already underway from the state, utilities and the U.S. Coast Guard, for the storm that came really fast.

In Port St. Joe, about 12 miles southeast of Mexico Beach, a church lost its steeple and much of its roof, parts of buildings were torn away, and pine trees snapped like matchsticks. 

The governor didnt wait for damage assessments before seeking federal assistance from President Donald Trump for 14 counties: Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Hamilton, Jackson, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Suwannee, Taylor and Wakulla.

Port St. Joe's Mayor Bo Patterson remained in his home seven blocks from the beach during the storm. "It feels like you don't know when the next tree is going to fall on top of you because it's blowing so ferociously," he told Reuters by telephone. "It's very, very scary. We have trees being uprooted, heavy, heavy rain."

Flooding threat remains in Gwinnett as Michael moves through Georgia

Further east, Apalachicola saw a lot of damage too. Sally Crown, who rode out the storm in her house, ventured out after the storm had passed.

After several more posts, she shared an image of her vantage point in her condominium at Mexico Beach Villas. What she was staring at was destruction.

Fast, furious: How Michael grew into a 155 mph monster

"It's absolutely horrendous. Catastrophic," Crown told AP. "There's flooding. Boats on the highway. A house on the highway. Houses that have been there forever are just shattered."

When Hurricane Michael made landfall as a powerful Category 4 storm on Wednesday, it passed directly through Mexico Beach, Florida. 

Famous for staying open during natural disasters, Waffle House closes 21 restaurants

"There are so many downed power lines and trees that it's almost impossible to get through the city," Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson said.

Weather conditions attracting some to Fort Myers Beach

The Wakulla County Sheriff's Office said parts of the county, which sits on the coast south of Tallahassee, had seen storm surge of 9 feet. The winds were dying down and crews were beginning to access the damage.

Tessa Talarico started to take video from her cell phone as it was happening and post what she was seeing to Instagram.

Hours before landfall, reports of damage and flooding were relayed from the coast. Residents who refused to evacuate were cut off when bridges were closed, including along St. George Island, where some called for help Wednesday morning but were told crews would not be able to reach them, a National Weather Service storm report said.

"This is super bad," she wrote. "A whole house is gone and is floating in front of our place."

Wednesday morning, Florida Gov. Rick Scott shared dire advice: "The time to evacuate has come and gone … SEEK REFUGE IMMEDIATELY."

"Unfortunately, Hurricane Michael has become a hurricane of the worst kind," FEMA Administrator Brock Long told reporters.

Video: Storm surge from Hurricane Michael swallows shoreline

The Florida Highway Patrol said it pulled its troopers away from coastal areas because it was too dangerous to keep them in those areas.

The conditions on the ground continued to deteriorate on Wednesday, with many local roads being closed. Typical was the Bay County Sheriffs department tweet that it had ordered the closure of the Hathaway Bridge in Panama City. Other bridges around the coastal area were also reported closed, further shutting down land travel.

"We have done everything we can as far as getting the word out," said Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith told the AP. "Hopefully more people will leave."

On Wednesday afternoon, as the storms 155-mile-per-hour winds lashed Panama City, calls to 10 of that citys most popular hotels, including the Holiday Inn, Wingate by Wyndham, Country Inn and Suites by Radisson and Hilton Garden Inn went unanswered. The phone lines rang and rang again, with nobody picking up.

More than 375,000 people along the Gulf Coast in 22 counties were ordered or urged to evacuate, officials said.

All airports along the Florida Panhandle closed throughout the storm, and flights were canceled. Tallahassee International Airport tweeted late Wednesday that the airfield had reopened but priority was being given to relief flights. Commercial flights were set to resume midday Thursday, the airport said.

Florida trailer park manager Robert King spent most of Tuesday going door-to-door across the 53 homes he oversees, warning residents to heed evacuation orders and flee Panama City ahead of the monster hurricane hurtling toward the Florida Panhandle. But that turned out to be easier said than done: More than half told him they didnt have the means to get out of town. King, who manages the Pines/Palm Haven Mobile Home Park in Panama City, told them to hunker down and try to ride out the areas worst storm in a century as best they could. Worried about leaving his tenants alone, he decided to stick out Hurricane Michael too, from his home about 10 miles away. By Wednesday afternoon, he told VICE News, the mobile home park had already lost power and he has been fielding calls from worried residents ever since.

In Bay County, first responders were no longer able to respond to emergencies as of Wednesday morning, but the Panama City Fire Department would continue responding to life-threatening emergency calls that came from within the city limits, the county said in a tweet.

Florida trailer park manager Robert King spent most of Tuesday going door-to-door across the 53 homes he oversees, warning residents to heed evacuation orders and flee Panama City ahead of the monster hurricane hurtling toward the Florida Panhandle. But that turned out to be easier said than done: More than half told him they didnt have the means to get out of town. King, who manages the Pines/Palm Haven Mobile Home Park in Panama City, told them to hunker down and try to ride out the areas worst storm in a century as best they could. Worried about leaving his tenants alone, he decided to stick out Hurricane Michael too, from his home about 10 miles away. By Wednesday afternoon, he told VICE News, the mobile home park had already lost power and he has been fielding calls from worried residents ever since.

"Theres no way to put a silver lining on this," said Jim Cantore, storm tracker for The Weather Channel, Wednesday morning while reporting live on Panama City Beach.

Thats the plight for a lot of residents near Panama City, Florida, where Hurricane Michael made landfall as a devastating Category 4 storm Wednesday afternoon. The median household income there is $38,397, according to U.S. Census data, while the states overall median income is closer to $49,000. In Bay County, where Panama City is located, about 13,600 residences — 13.5 percent of all housing units — are mobile homes, according to government data. Parts of the county were put under an evacuation order early Tuesday morning, along with parts of Wakulla and Gulf counties. In all, more than 375,000 Floridians are under evacuation orders across dozens of counties. Further evacuation orders are in place across Georgia and Alabama, which are also in the hurricanes path.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in Florida to free up as many resources as possible for storm and emergency response.

Thats the plight for a lot of residents near Panama City, Florida, where Hurricane Michael made landfall as a devastating Category 4 storm Wednesday afternoon. The median household income there is $38,397, according to U.S. Census data, while the states overall median income is closer to $49,000. In Bay County, where Panama City is located, about 13,600 residences — 13.5 percent of all housing units — are mobile homes, according to government data. Parts of the county were put under an evacuation order early Tuesday morning, along with parts of Wakulla and Gulf counties. In all, more than 375,000 Floridians are under evacuation orders across dozens of counties. Further evacuation orders are in place across Georgia and Alabama, which are also in the hurricanes path.

Rescue teams and utility trucks descended on the region by the hundreds from all over the country as they prepared to help with the aftermath.

By now, its too late for those who stayed in place to do anything but hunker down and hope for the best. Wednesday morning, Bay Countys emergency services department warned people they could no longer evacuate, since the hurricane was quickly approaching with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph. Some areas around the Panhandle could see a 14-foot storm surge, according to the National Hurricane Center, and the hurricane might dump up to 12 inches of rain in some isolated areas.

"We have a pit in our stomachs, too," National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said during a Wednesday morning interview on The Weather Channel.

Evacuation orders were expanded for additional areas in the path of the storm on Tuesday. Mandatory evacuations were ordered for Okaloosa Island and Holiday Isle Tuesday afternoon, and voluntary evacuations were in place for residents in flood-prone areas of Pasco County.

"If you decide to stay in your home and a tree falls on your house or the storm surge catches you and youre now calling for help, theres no one that can respond to help you," warned Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan during a news conference Monday. "Thats the criticality of following directions."

Scott said more than 3,500 Florida National Guard members were activated for storm response. He added that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was ready to deploy and the Department of Transportation was monitoring the situation.

All bridges leading to and from coastal islands were closed Wednesday morning. With road closures expected to be a fluid situation, officials urged residents to follow updates on the Department of Transportation's Twitter page.

Terrifying Early Videos From The Ground Show Just How Destructive Hurricane Michael Has Become

"This is the worst storm that the Florida Panhandle has seen in more than 100 years," said Scott.

Florida State University, Florida A&M University and Tallahassee Community College all announced that campuses would be closed Tuesday through Friday. FSU opened the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center as a shelter for students and faculty.

Leon County Schools posted a tweet Monday saying all schools would be closed through the rest of the week. Bay District Schools will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday, the Panama City News Herald reported.


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