Michael updates: Across the Florida Panhandle, residents sort through debris left in storms wake

Michael updates: Across the Florida Panhandle, residents sort through debris left in storm\s wake

Hurricane Michael devastation in Panama City, Florida seen in drone video, photos

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Tropical Storm Michael is accelerating through the Carolinas with high wind gusts and flooding rain from the southern Appalachians to parts of the East Coast into early Friday.

Just before 8 a.m. Thursday, the sunrise was visible over the region as what was forecast to be a rainy, windy morning started out as breezy with scattered showers. But conditions are expected to degrade as the day progresses, said Victoria Oliva, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Wilmington office.

Michael made landfall as a catastrophic, unprecedented Florida Panhandle Category 4 hurricane early Wednesday afternoon. For a full summary on Michael's destructive storm surge flooding, winds and heavy rain, scroll down to our recap section below.

The center of Michael is now pushing into North Carolina with its broad area of rain from the Upstate South Carolina to Virginia and West Virginia.

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Winds gusted to 50-55 mph, at times, in Augusta, Georgia, Charleston and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Thursday morning. There have been a number of reports of trees and power lines downed in eastern Georgia and South Carolina, including in the Columbia metro area.

Fooding was also reported on Interstate 26 and the Interstate 126 interchange on the northwest side of Columbia early Thursday morning. Ten homes were flooded in Irmo, South Carolina, requiring some evacuations.

In North Carolina, a swift water rescue was needed due to flooding near Old Fort, and significant street flooding was reported in Hendersonville and Boone.

On Thursday, the region is now forecast to see between half an inch and three inches of rain, with those higher amounts more likely for more western parts of the area. Most of the rainfall will be scattered throughout the day.

Winds have diminished in the hardest-hit parts of the Florida Panhandle, southwest Georgia and southeast Alabama.

Michael continues to move at a breakneck pace, pushing northwest at 20 mph. For comparison, Hurricane Florence was inching along at 2-3 mph when it made landfall over the region on Sept. 14, dropping upwards of 30 inches.

The center of Michael will continue to accelerate to the east-northeast through Thursday night across the Carolinas into southeast Virginia, then move off the East Coast out to sea by Friday as a post-tropical low.

– Tropical-storm-force (39-plus mph) winds are possible through much of the Carolinas into Thursday night or Friday.- These winds are capable of downing trees and triggering additional power outages in these areas. This is a particular concern in areas where soil is still saturated from Florence's torrential rain in northeastern South Carolina and North Carolina.- Metro areas that may experience additional power outages through Thursday night include: Columbia, Charleston, Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham.- Strong winds are also forecast over portions southeastern Virginia and the Delmarva Peninsula as Michael becomes post-tropical off the mid-Atlantic coast late Thursday night into Friday.

While the center has not been fully activated, emergency personnel are on duty to respond to any of the storms effects, which are anticipated to be some wind gusts and rain of up to 3 inches.

– Total rainfall of 4 to 7 inches is expected from the Carolinas and southern Virginia to the southern Delmarva Peninsula, with isolated totals up to 9 inches in North Carolina and Virginia. This will include some areas devastated by flooding from Hurricane Florence. That said, this system will move quickly rather than stall like Florence did and will, therefore, not bring extreme rainfall amounts. – The rest of the Northeast coast into southeast New England may see 1 to 3 inches of rain.

Wrightsville Beach Mayor Bill Blair said he had not received reports of any overwash of the dunes Thursday morning. There was briefly a power outage, but that wasnt storm related, he said.

– As is typical with tropical cyclones, isolated tornadoes will be a threat.- Thursday and Thursday night, that tornado threat will exist from the eastern Carolinas into southeast Virginia.

“There is no doubt we are vulnerable because of what weve already gone through,” she said. “We could see some further damage, but nothing to the extent of what we saw in Florence.”

– Inundation of 2 to 4 feet above ground level is possible on the sound side of North Carolina's Outer Banks as winds from Michael pile water along those coastal areas.- Water levels are dropping along the Florida Panhandle Gulf Coast.

With the region still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Florence, residents should be aware that remnants from Michael could have a heightened impact, Murphy said.

Hurricane Michael intensified right up to its landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, around 12:30 p.m. CDT Wednesday as a high-end Category 4 with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph and a minimum central pressure of 919 millibars.

As of 11 a.m., the National Weather Service had recorded maximum wind gusts of 41 mph in Wilmington, 45 mph in Wrightsville Beach, and 55 mph in North Myrtle Beach.

Michael was the third most intense continental U.S. landfall by pressure and fourth strongest by maximum sustained winds on record. Michael was also the most intense Florida Panhandle landfall on record, the first Category 4 hurricane to do so in records dating to the mid-19th century.

Area beaches are expressing momentary relief as Tropical Storm Michael appears to be exerting minimal impacts on the already well-worn coast.

The National Hurricane Center's Storm Surge Unit, estimated peak storm surge inundation of 9 to 14 feet above ground likely occurred from Mexico Beach through Apalachee Bay, a location notorious for storm surge even from less intense tropical cyclones. 

Despite the shift west, wind forecasts throughout Thursday have not changed with sustained winds of 25-30 mph expected and gusts of 40-45 mph possible.

Michael's storm surge produced a peak inundation of 7.72 feet above ground level at Apalachicola, Florida, Wednesday afternoon, smashing the previous record of 6.43 feet above ground set during Hurricane Dennis in July 2005. 

“The majority of what we are going to get is probably right now,” he said around 11 a.m. “Thats good because we didn’t need another one.”

Peak inundation of 5.31 feet above ground at Panama City, Florida, was second only to Hurricane Opal in 1995. Cedar Key, Florida, saw peak inundation of just over 4 feet Wednesday afternoon.

The region was placed under a tornado watch that will remain in place until 9 p.m., as storms capable of producing tornadoes moved through.

An observing site near Tyndall Air Force Base, east of Panama City, measured a wind gust to 129 mph early Wednesday afternoon, and a gust to 107 mph was reported 1 mile south of Panama City.

At one time, it was estimated over 200 roads in the city of Tallahassee were blocked by fallen trees.

A weather reporting station deployed by Weatherflow and the University of Florida measured a surface pressure from 920-929 millibars, an extraordinarily low pressure to measure on U.S. soil, before it was toppled, according to Shea Gibson, WeatherFlow, Inc. meteorologist.

As of 10 a.m., only scattered showers hovered over the region, and winds were only starting to pick up strength to a sturdy breeze.

Michael also shattered Panama City's all-time low pressure record, which had stood from Hurricane Kate in 1985. 

In Southeastern N.C., Tropical Storm Michaels approach to the Carolinas was much quieter — and drier — than expected.

– Florida: 129 mph at Tyndall AFB; 89 mph in Apalachicola; 71 mph in Tallahassee- Alabama: 68 mph in Dothan- Georgia: 115 mph in Donalsonville; 70 mph in Albany- South Carolina: 55 mph in Myrtle Beach; 52 mph near Charleston

The region remain under a tropical storm warning with the potential for storm surge along the beaches.

Rainfall from Michael has now topped 6 inches in a few locations, but has been held down somewhat, primarily due to Michael's more rapid forward movement compared to Florence. Here are some notable rainfall totals by state:

– Florida: 5.26 inches at Sumatra; 3.17 inches in Tallahassee; 2.61 inches in Panama City- Alabama: 5.54 inches in Ozark; 4.92 inches in Dothan; 1.60 inches in Montgomery- Georgia: 6.48 inches near Powder Springs; 3.37 inches in Macon- South Carolina: 6.01 inches near Hartsville; 4.47 inches in Columbia- North Carolina: 9.62 inches near Black Mountain; 6.75 inches near Boone; 2.95 inches in Asheville- Virginia: 5.75 inches near White Gate; 1.40 inches in Blacksburg

Michael first developed as Tropical Depression Fourteen on Oct. 7 east of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

Michael rapidly intensified from a tropical depression to Category 1 hurricane in just 24 hours ending 11 a.m. EDT Oct. 8.

Michael continued to intensify right up to landfall, exhibiting eyewall lightning as it pushed to high-end Category 4 status slamming ashore in the Florida Panhandle.

Michael arrived in southwestern Georgia early Wednesday evening as a Category 3 major hurricane, the first hurricane of that strength to track into Georgia since the Georgia Hurricane of 1898, according to Dr. Phil Klotzbach, tropical scientist at Colorado State University.

Drone footage shows massive damage to a school, collapsed buildings and rubble from Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida

The stunning scope of Hurricane Michael's deadly rampage started coming into focus Thursday, as dawn in Panama City, Florida revealed a sprawling mess of almost unimaginable devastation wrought by the third-most powerful hurricane in recorded history to lash the U.S. mainland.

Michael is now a tropical storm and, as of Thursday afternoon, was pushing its way across South Carolina — while also lashing North Carolina and Virginia with strong winds and heavy rains amid a tornado threat.

Hurricane Michael made landfall around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, just north of Mexico Beach, as a Category 4 storm with 155 mph sustained winds — just 1 mph below the threshold for a Category 5 designation. The storm blasted the Florida Panhandle and southwest Georgia with wicked winds and killed at least seven people.

In Panama City, located just west of where the monster storm made landfall,  drone video taken by storm chaser Brett Adair shows how the winds and rain ravaged a middle school.

Jinks Middle School took such a hit from the hurricane that Adair was able to fly the drone right through the school's gym, where Michael's fierce gusts peeled back the roof and collapsed walls. Not that everything was ripped apart: Even with debris lining the basketball court, a volleyball net remained taut and in place, awaiting the next match.

The volleyball net remains standing at Jinks Middle School in Panama City after Hurricane Michael tore through. (Brett Adair)

There were at least 5 confirmed fatalities in Bay County alone, a Panama City Police source told Fox News. Authorities are still going house-to-house and are asking people to stay out of the city because roads are blocked, and there is no power or phone service. The law enforcement source, who called the situation "catastrophic," said that evacuess should remain where they are and not come back for the time being.

Elsewhere in Panama City, downed power lines, uprooted trees and buildings with tops peeled open like soup cans littered the landscape. As of Thursday afternoon, more than 300,00 customers were without power in Florida and nearly 280,000 customers in the dark in Georgia.

Emergency management officials are urging residents to stay off the streets until utility crews and other service providers finish clearing away hazardous obstacles.

Damage to beachfront condominiums in Panama City Beach, Fla. from Hurricane Michael (Jonathan Serrie/Fox News)

Vance Beu, who was staying at an apartment complex with his mother, told the Associated Press the storm had "super high-pitched" roar and sounded like "a jet engine was coming."

"It was terrifying, honestly. There was a lot of noise. We thought the windows were going to break at any time," Beu said.

Extreme winds from Hurricane Michael gutted roofs and facades of beachfront condominiums in Panama City Beach, Fla., sending debris to the streets below.

Rescue workers are set to spend Thursday picking carefully through the wreckage in neighborhoods where people did not evacuate before Michael slammed the area. FEMA administrator Brock Long told "FOX & Friends" on Thursday that crews were only able to do "limited" search and rescue operations before nightfall.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said at a briefing on Thursday morning that so many families across the region have "lost everything."

"This morning, Florida's Gulf Coast, Panhandle and Big Bend are waking up to unimaginable destruction," Scott said. "This hurricane was an absolute monster."

Rescue personnel search amidst debris in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The top focus for officials on Thursday is search and rescue, including a survey of the hardest-hit areas.

"Homes are gone. Businesses are gone. Roads and infrastructure along the storm's path have been destroyed," the governor said.

Some of the worst damage was in Mexico Beach, where Michael crashed ashore and brought a storm surge of 9 feet. Entire blocks of homes near the beach were obliterated, leaving nothing but concrete slabs in the sand. Rows and rows of other homes were reduced to piles of splintered debris or were crumpled and slumped at odd angles.

Debris scatters an area in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla., Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The mayor of Mexico Beach told Fox News that around 280 people had refused to leave ahead of the hurricane despite a mandatory evacuation order. A National Guard team got into Mexico Beach and found 20 survivors overnight, and more crews were pushing into the area by afternoon, with the fate of many residents unknown.

Besides the death's in Bay County, a Florida man killed by a tree that crashed through his roof and an 11-year-old Georgia girl who died when a car port rammed the family's mobile home.

At Tyndall Air Force Base, which took a direct hit from Michael, base officials said Thursday that they have found "widespread catastrophic damage" during an initial assessment of the facility.

Earlier this week, more than 50 F-22 stealth fighter jets were evacuated along with base personnel as the massive storm approached. As of Thursday, recovery teams conducted an initial assessment of portions of base housing and found "widespread roof damage" to nearly every home.

“At this point, Tyndall residents and evacuated personnel should remain at their safe location,” Col. Brian Laidlaw, 325th Fighter Wing commander, said in a statement. “We are actively developing plans to reunite families and plan to provide safe passage back to base housing.”

Rick Reichmuth, Fox News' chief meteorologist, said Michael was the fourth-most powerful storm to make landfall in the U.S. when measuring by wind, and the third-most powerful in terms of pressure, at 919 mb. Michael was the first storm of its magnitude to make landfall in the Panhandle since record-keeping there began in 1851.

Fox News Rick Leventhal and Jonathan Serrie in Panama City Beach, Fox News Lucas Tomlinson, Stephen Sorace and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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