Hurricane Michael wrecks Florida Panhandle and kills at least two

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Hurricane Michael was downgraded to a tropical storm and took its drenching rains to Georgia and the Carolinas on Thursday after battering Florida’s Panhandle with one of the most powerful hurricane ever to strike the U.S. mainland and killing at least two people.

Roads were flooded, trees uprooted and homes destroyed after the ‘monstrous’ 155mph wind storm ploughed into the small tourist town of Mexico Beach at about 2pm and swept across the state.

At least two people have been killed, including an 11-year-old child in Seminole County, Georgia, who died after a tree fell on her home. A man in Greensboro, Florida was also killed when a tree crashed through his home and trapped him. Downed power lines and blocked roads stopped emergency crews getting to him in time.

More than 500,000 homes and businesses in Florida, Georgia and Alabama have been left without power as the storm moves north east before ending up in the Atlantic by Friday.

In terms of wind speed, Michael is the fourth strongest storm ever to hit the US after Andrew in 1992, Camille in 1969 and an unnamed Labor Day Hurricane in 1935 which had winds of 184mph.

Scientists say it was so strong because warm waters of 84F (29C) extended unusually far up the northern Gulf Coast for this time of year after Florida had its warmest September ever.

Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 45 miles from the center and were tearing buildings apart in Panama City Beach after the hurricane made landfall on Wednesday afternoon

Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 45 miles from the center and were tearing buildings apart in Panama City Beach after the hurricane made landfall on Wednesday afternoon

Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 45 miles from the center and were tearing buildings apart in Panama City Beach after the hurricane made landfall on Wednesday afternoon

Storm Surge retreats from inland areas, foreground, where boats lay sunk and damaged at the Port St. Joe Marina, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018 in Port St. Joe, Fla. Supercharged by abnormally warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle with terrifying winds of 155 mph Wednesday, splintering homes and submerging neighborhoods. (Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

Storm Surge retreats from inland areas, foreground, where boats lay sunk and damaged at the Port St. Joe Marina, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018 in Port St. Joe, Fla. Supercharged by abnormally warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle with terrifying winds of 155 mph Wednesday, splintering homes and submerging neighborhoods. (Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

Boats lay sunk and damaged at the Port St. Joe Marina. Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle with terrifying winds of 155 mph Wednesday

Shredded trees, derailed train cars and a sunken trailer are seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Panama City

Shredded trees, derailed train cars and a sunken trailer are seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Panama City

Shredded trees, derailed train cars and a sunken trailer are seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Panama City

Destruction: The sun sets on a wreckage-littered street after Hurricane Michael passed over Panama City, Florida

Destruction: The sun sets on a wreckage-littered street after Hurricane Michael passed over Panama City, Florida

Destruction: The sun sets on a wreckage-littered street after Hurricane Michael passed over Panama City, Florida

Damage to a McDonald's in Panama City, downtown area after Hurricane Michael made landfall along Florida's Panhandle

Damage to a McDonald's in Panama City, downtown area after Hurricane Michael made landfall along Florida's Panhandle

Damage to a McDonald’s in Panama City, downtown area after Hurricane Michael made landfall along Florida’s Panhandle

Damages to the Presbyterian school in Panama City, downtown area after Hurricane Michael made landfall Wednesday

Damages to the Presbyterian school in Panama City, downtown area after Hurricane Michael made landfall Wednesday

Damages to the Presbyterian school in Panama City, downtown area after Hurricane Michael made landfall Wednesday

An American flag battered by Hurricane Michael continues to fly in the in the rose colored light of sunset at Shell Point Beach 

An American flag battered by Hurricane Michael continues to fly in the in the rose colored light of sunset at Shell Point Beach 

An American flag battered by Hurricane Michael continues to fly in the in the rose colored light of sunset at Shell Point Beach 

Hurricane Michael barreled into the Florida Panhandle with winds of 155mph Wednesday, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake, as it became the most powerful storm to ever hit the region - and the fourth strongest to make landfall in the US 

Hurricane Michael barreled into the Florida Panhandle with winds of 155mph Wednesday, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake, as it became the most powerful storm to ever hit the region - and the fourth strongest to make landfall in the US 

Hurricane Michael barreled into the Florida Panhandle with winds of 155mph Wednesday, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake, as it became the most powerful storm to ever hit the region – and the fourth strongest to make landfall in the US 

Bo Lynn's Market starts taking water in the town of Saint Marks as Hurricane Michael pushes the storm surge up the Wakulla and Saint Marks Rivers

Bo Lynn's Market starts taking water in the town of Saint Marks as Hurricane Michael pushes the storm surge up the Wakulla and Saint Marks Rivers

Bo Lynn’s Market starts taking water in the town of Saint Marks as Hurricane Michael pushes the storm surge up the Wakulla and Saint Marks Rivers

A man watches the sun set during Hurricane Michael in Panama City Beach, Florida. The hurricane is the fourth strongest ever to hit the US

A man watches the sun set during Hurricane Michael in Panama City Beach, Florida. The hurricane is the fourth strongest ever to hit the US

A man watches the sun set during Hurricane Michael in Panama City Beach, Florida. The hurricane is the fourth strongest ever to hit the US

This graphic shows where the hurricane came from before it made landfall on Wednesday. It will head into the Atlantic Ocean by Friday

This graphic shows where the hurricane came from before it made landfall on Wednesday. It will head into the Atlantic Ocean by Friday

This graphic shows where the hurricane came from before it made landfall on Wednesday. It will head into the Atlantic Ocean by Friday

This graphic shows the projected path of the storm. It made landfall on Wednesday and will leave land by Friday

This graphic shows the projected path of the storm. It made landfall on Wednesday and will leave land by Friday

This graphic shows the projected path of the storm. It made landfall on Wednesday and will leave land by Friday

Why was Hurricane Michael so strong? 

Scientists say it was so strong because warm waters of 84F (29C) extended unusually far up the northern Gulf Coast for this time of year after Florida had its warmest September ever.

It was also strong because the eyewall – the ring around the eye of the storm – formed late.

This meant that there was not enough time for an eyewall replacement – a second ring formed of rainclouds – to form and weaken the storm. 

Normally, the so-called eyewall replacement cycle weakens a storm by 20-30mph – but Michael was at its strongest when it made landfall.

Source: Dr Jeff Masters 

The storm came ashore as a category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson wind scale, before it was downgraded to a category 3. By 8pm, it was down to a category 1. 

The winds were so strong they brought down a billboard in Florida’s Panama City, tore down a Texaco gas pumping station canopy in Inlet Beach and caused a storm surge that completely knocked a house off its foundations in Mexico Beach. 

Beachfront structures could be seen collapsing and metal roofing materials were blown away amid the heavy rain. Murky water was so high that roofs were about all that could be seen of many homes.

Hours earlier, meteorologists watched satellite imagery in complete awe as the storm intensified.

‘We are in new territory,’ National Hurricane Center Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen wrote on Facebook. ‘The historical record, going back to 1851, finds no Category 4 hurricane ever hitting the Florida panhandle.’

The University of Georgia’s Marshall Shepherd called it a ‘life-altering event’. More than 370,000 were ordered to evacuate but many refused. 

By Wednesday night, the storm had moved north into South and North Carolina after sparking flash foods and property damage in Georgia.

The tropical storm moved across southwestern Georgia at about 20mph Wednesday night as it made its way northeast towards the Atlantic. 

A tornado watch is in effect across south and central Georgia until 2am Thursday. Dramatic footage showed homes and cars submerged in flood waters as the hurricane battered the Sunshine State.    

Forecasters warned rain could reach up to a foot and the life-threatening storm surge could swell to 14 feet.

Mexico Beach councilwoman Linda Albrecht told CNN that she fears she won’t have a home to go back to after the hurricane sweeps through the state.

‘It is extremely emotional,’ she said, fighting tears. ;It’s like a nightmare. You just want somebody to shake you and wake you up. How can this happen?’ 

‘I am hearing on TV, as all of us go home, it will be like a war zone,’ she added. ‘That’s the only thing I can imagine.’ 

Reid Garrett warned that every single building he’d seen in Panama City, had damage. 

A collapsed boat housing after the arrival of Hurricane Michael which hit with winds of 150mph on Wednesday afternoon

A collapsed boat housing after the arrival of Hurricane Michael which hit with winds of 150mph on Wednesday afternoon

A collapsed boat housing after the arrival of Hurricane Michael which hit with winds of 150mph on Wednesday afternoon

A woman and her children wain near a destroyed gas station after Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida

A woman and her children wain near a destroyed gas station after Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida

A woman and her children wain near a destroyed gas station after Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida

Wrecked boats sit near a pier after the arrival of Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida

Wrecked boats sit near a pier after the arrival of Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida

Wrecked boats sit near a pier after the arrival of Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida

A McDonald's sign damaged by Hurricane Michael is pictured in Panama City Beach, Florida 

A McDonald's sign damaged by Hurricane Michael is pictured in Panama City Beach, Florida 

A McDonald’s sign damaged by Hurricane Michael is pictured in Panama City Beach, Florida 

Waves crash on stilt houses along the shore due to Hurricane Michael at Alligator Point in Franklin County, Florida 

Waves crash on stilt houses along the shore due to Hurricane Michael at Alligator Point in Franklin County, Florida 

Waves crash on stilt houses along the shore due to Hurricane Michael at Alligator Point in Franklin County, Florida 

A man walks through a flooded street after the arrival of Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida, USA, 10 October 

A man walks through a flooded street after the arrival of Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida, USA, 10 October 

A man walks through a flooded street after the arrival of Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida, USA, 10 October 

Hurricane Michael formed off the coast of Cuba carrying major Category 4 landfall in the Florida Panhandle. Surge in the Big Bend area, along with catastrophic winds at 155mph 

Hurricane Michael formed off the coast of Cuba carrying major Category 4 landfall in the Florida Panhandle. Surge in the Big Bend area, along with catastrophic winds at 155mph 

Hurricane Michael formed off the coast of Cuba carrying major Category 4 landfall in the Florida Panhandle. Surge in the Big Bend area, along with catastrophic winds at 155mph 

A hubcap blows by as a man runs to his car during Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla., Wednesday 

A hubcap blows by as a man runs to his car during Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla., Wednesday 

A hubcap blows by as a man runs to his car during Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla., Wednesday 

A view of storm damage during Hurricane Michael which slammed into the Florida coast on October 10 as the most powerful storm to hit the southern US state in more than a century

A view of storm damage during Hurricane Michael which slammed into the Florida coast on October 10 as the most powerful storm to hit the southern US state in more than a century

A view of storm damage during Hurricane Michael which slammed into the Florida coast on October 10 as the most powerful storm to hit the southern US state in more than a century

Meanwhile, President Trump came under fire for failing to visit Florida or the Carolinas as they were battered by the storm.

Speaking in a interview with Fox News on Wednesday night, Donald Trump explained that he’d wanted to attend his Wednesday rally instead because he didn’t want to let down his supporters.

‘If I didn’t go, they would also criticize,’ he explained. ‘This was set up a long time ago. We had thousands of people lined up from yesterday. 

‘I mean literally they stayed 24 hours and sometimes more than that to go to these rallies. They like them. You probably saw the pictures on television tonight. 

‘Thousands and thousands of people outside after the arena. It was a big arena. But it was full. We had 15 or beyond that thousand people outside. If I didn’t go, that would have been the wrong thing too.’

Trump said that he’d been in ‘constant communication’ with Florida governor Rick Scott and the governor of Alabama, and has ‘people in Florida’.

He added that it had been a ‘tough’ storm, offering the insight: ‘ The wind was probably more dangerous than anything else.’  

Pam Heckstall surveys the damage as the remnants of Hurricane Michael move through Panama City, Flaorida

Pam Heckstall surveys the damage as the remnants of Hurricane Michael move through Panama City, Flaorida

Pam Heckstall surveys the damage as the remnants of Hurricane Michael move through Panama City, Flaorida

The eye of the monstrous Hurricane Michael (pictured above) made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida just before 2pm Wednesday and the eyewall came ashore minutes earlier between Panama City and St. Vincent Island

Hotel employees look at a canopy that had just collapsed as Hurricane Michael tore through Panama City Beach on Wednesday afternoon

Hotel employees look at a canopy that had just collapsed as Hurricane Michael tore through Panama City Beach on Wednesday afternoon

Hotel employees look at a canopy that had just collapsed as Hurricane Michael tore through Panama City Beach on Wednesday afternoon

The president (pictured at a rally on Wednesday) has come under fire for failing to visit Florida or the Carolinas as they are battered by the storm

The president (pictured at a rally on Wednesday) has come under fire for failing to visit Florida or the Carolinas as they are battered by the storm

The president (pictured at a rally on Wednesday) has come under fire for failing to visit Florida or the Carolinas as they are battered by the storm

The National Weather Service says tornadoes are possible across the Florida Panhandle, southeast Georgia and southern South Carolina through Thursday morning as the hurricane now moves inland. 

Authorities told residents along the affected areas of Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coast on Wednesday morning that they had run out of time to evacuate and should hunker down. More than 375,000 people had been urged or ordered to evacuate, but emergency authorities lamented that many people ignored the warnings and seemed to think they could ride it out.

THE STATS ON HURRICANE MICHAEL 

155 mph: Top windspeed when it hit land as a category 4 hurricane, near Mexico Beach and Panama City, at around 2pm.

388,160: Customers without power in Florida as of Wednesday evening. Another 60,000 were without power in Alabama.

12 inches: Rain forecast to be dumped across the Florida Panhandle, the Big Bend region and parts of Alabama and Georgia.

375,000: The approximate number of Floridians who were under mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders across parts of 18 counties. 

14 feet: The maximum height forecast for the storm surge.

6,700: People in Florida’s 54 shelters on Wednesday.

A Red Cross official said it’s possible that as many as 320,000 people on Florida’s Gulf Coast did not evacuate and are likely riding out the storm. Emergency managers say they don’t know how many left the area, but there were about 6,000 people in 80 shelters in five states, including nearly 1,200 who are still in shelters following Hurricane Florence. 

After the hurricane made landfall, Florida Governor Rick Scott urged those who didn’t evacuate to stay in place.

‘We are still in the midst of a Category 4 catastrophic and historic storm. I urge all Floridians in the Panhandle to continue sheltering in place, and listening to local authorities. Stay inside until directed further so that our recovery teams can move in as quickly as possible,’ he tweeted.  

Scott had earlier said the hurricane would bring ‘unimaginable devastation’ and said he was ‘scared to death’ for those who ignored evacuation orders.

‘Our biggest concern is… the people that chose not to evacuate,’ he told CNN. ‘I worry about them every second and I hope there’re no children there who didn’t have the choice on their own to make these decisions. 

‘I’m just praying for them and, as soon as this passes, we will be out there doing everything we can to rescue everybody… We will take care of each other.’

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, told President Trump in a briefing shortly before the eye of the storm hit that it was the ‘worst kind’ of hurricane.

‘Storm surge estimates are anywhere between nine and 14 feet. Storm surge is going to be the worse where eye makes landfall – just to the east or south of where the eye makes landfall… Coupled with that you have over 145 mph winds. Structures built before 2001 are not designed to handle that type of wind, typically,’ Long said.  

Cameras outside the International Space Station captured views of Hurricane Michael on Wednesday as the storm made landfall as a category 4 hurricane

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio told CNN it would be a ‘killer hurricane’ and warned anyone in the path of the storm surge: ‘You’re going to die’. 

Residents and tourists were told to flee low-lying areas in at least 22 counties along the shore in Florida’s Panhandle and adjacent Big Bend region.

Meteorologists said it had the potential to become one of the worst storms in the history of the region as they watched satellite imagery in complete awe while the storm intensified.

‘I guess it’s the worst-case scenario. I don’t think anyone would have experienced this in the Panhandle,’ meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com said. ‘This is going to have structure-damaging winds along the coast and hurricane force winds inland.’

National Hurricane Center Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen added: ‘We are in new territory. The historical record, going back to 1851, finds no Category 4 hurricane ever hitting the Florida Panhandle.’

A satellite image of Michael took the terrifying shape of a skull as it roared closer to the Florida Panhandle as a fierce Category 4 storm on Tuesday. The sinister-looking red and gray skull appeared briefly on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration infrared satellite images. 

A damaged condo building is seen after hurricane Michael passed through the downtown area in Panama City

A damaged condo building is seen after hurricane Michael passed through the downtown area in Panama City

A damaged condo building is seen after hurricane Michael passed through the downtown area in Panama City

Boats that were docked are seen in a pile of rubble after hurricane Michael passed through Panama City on Wednesday

Boats that were docked are seen in a pile of rubble after hurricane Michael passed through Panama City on Wednesday

Boats that were docked are seen in a pile of rubble after hurricane Michael passed through Panama City on Wednesday

Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 45 miles from the center and were tearing buildings apart in Panama City

Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 45 miles from the center and were tearing buildings apart in Panama City

Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 45 miles from the center and were tearing buildings apart in Panama City

A storm chaser climbs into his vehicle during the eye of Hurricane Michael to retrieve equipment after a hotel canopy collapsed in Panama City Beach on Wednesday

A storm chaser climbs into his vehicle during the eye of Hurricane Michael to retrieve equipment after a hotel canopy collapsed in Panama City Beach on Wednesday

A storm chaser climbs into his vehicle during the eye of Hurricane Michael to retrieve equipment after a hotel canopy collapsed in Panama City Beach on Wednesday

Mike Lindsey stands in his antique shop after the winds from hurricane Michael broke the windows in his shop in Panama City

Mike Lindsey stands in his antique shop after the winds from hurricane Michael broke the windows in his shop in Panama City

Mike Lindsey stands in his antique shop after the winds from hurricane Michael broke the windows in his shop in Panama City

A business in Port St. Joe, Florida lay in ruins after taking a direct hit from the hurricane on Wednesday afternoon

A business in Port St. Joe, Florida lay in ruins after taking a direct hit from the hurricane on Wednesday afternoon

A business in Port St. Joe, Florida lay in ruins after taking a direct hit from the hurricane on Wednesday afternoon

Collapsing building structures brought down power lines in Panama City from the strong winds brought about by Michael

Collapsing building structures brought down power lines in Panama City from the strong winds brought about by Michael

Collapsing building structures brought down power lines in Panama City from the strong winds brought about by Michael

Snapped pine trees litter a yard in Port St. Joe after Hurricane Michael made landfall with 155 mph winds

Snapped pine trees litter a yard in Port St. Joe after Hurricane Michael made landfall with 155 mph winds

Snapped pine trees litter a yard in Port St. Joe after Hurricane Michael made landfall with 155 mph winds

Debris is blown down a street by Hurricane Michael in Panama City when the hurricane made landfall with 155 mph winds

Debris is blown down a street by Hurricane Michael in Panama City when the hurricane made landfall with 155 mph winds

Debris is blown down a street by Hurricane Michael in Panama City when the hurricane made landfall with 155 mph winds

Chuck Cummins is blown around by the winds as he takes shelter in a parking garage as Hurricane Michael passes through the area

Chuck Cummins is blown around by the winds as he takes shelter in a parking garage as Hurricane Michael passes through the area

Chuck Cummins is blown around by the winds as he takes shelter in a parking garage as Hurricane Michael passes through the area

Buildings were blown over in Panama City when the fierce hurricane tore through Wednesday afternoon

Buildings were blown over in Panama City when the fierce hurricane tore through Wednesday afternoon

Buildings were blown over in Panama City when the fierce hurricane tore through Wednesday afternoon

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

Hurricane Michael was barely a hurricane Tuesday morning, with winds of 90 mph. A little over a day later, it had transformed into a monster. 

When it made landfall Wednesday afternoon, it was blowing at 155 mph. That’s a 72 percent increase in wind speed in less than 33 hours. 

Meteorologists first got a sense something big could be happening by watching how Michael’s eye changed shape. 

Moist air, warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, and ideal wind patterns supercharged Hurricane Michael in the hours before it smacked Florida’s Panhandle. 

Warm water is the energy that fuels hurricanes, and the Gulf water is 4 to 5 degrees warmer than normal.

Source: Associated Press 

President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for the entire state of Florida, freeing up federal assistance to supplement state and local disaster responses. 

About 2,500 National Guard troops were deployed to assist with evacuations and storm preparations, and more than 4,000 others were on standby. Some 17,000 utility restoration workers were also on call. 

Trump was briefed on the hurricane on Wednesday prior to it making landfall and said he would visit the area early next week. He acknowledged that a lot of the residents in the area were poor and said it was probably tough to leave.   

Multiple airports were closed on Wednesday, including Tallahassee International Airport, Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, Pensacola International Airport and Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport. 

A total of 453 flights had been canceled on Wednesday across the country, with many occurring in the Florida area. Amtrak has also modified its service and is waiving fees for passengers who change their reservations. 

The storm appeared to be so powerful that it is expected to remain a hurricane as it moves over Georgia early Thursday. Forecasters said it will unleash damaging wind and rain all the way into the Carolinas, which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence’s epic flooding. 

Michael is forecast to dump torrential rain over Florida, Alabama and Georgia, as well as the Carolinas and into Virginia. Up to a foot of rainfall was forecast for some areas. 

Waves started pounding a house in Alligator Point, Florida on Wednesday prior to Hurricane Michael making landfall

Waves started pounding a house in Alligator Point, Florida on Wednesday prior to Hurricane Michael making landfall

Waves started pounding a house in Alligator Point, Florida on Wednesday prior to Hurricane Michael making landfall

Bo Lynn's Market starts taking water in the town of Saint Marks as Hurricane Michael pushes the storm surge up the Wakulla and Saint Marks Rivers

Bo Lynn's Market starts taking water in the town of Saint Marks as Hurricane Michael pushes the storm surge up the Wakulla and Saint Marks Rivers

Bo Lynn’s Market starts taking water in the town of Saint Marks as Hurricane Michael pushes the storm surge up the Wakulla and Saint Marks Rivers

The St. Marks River in Florida had already started to overflow into the city on Wednesday morning prior to the hurricane making landfall

The St. Marks River in Florida had already started to overflow into the city on Wednesday morning prior to the hurricane making landfall

The St. Marks River in Florida had already started to overflow into the city on Wednesday morning prior to the hurricane making landfall

Jayden Morgan carries his dog to safety through a flooded street in St. Marks as his family evacuates at the last minute before Hurricane Michael hits the state

Jayden Morgan carries his dog to safety through a flooded street in St. Marks as his family evacuates at the last minute before Hurricane Michael hits the state

Jayden Morgan carries his dog to safety through a flooded street in St. Marks as his family evacuates at the last minute before Hurricane Michael hits the state

Streets in Okaloosa County were already experiencing minor flooding in the hours before Hurricane Michael was due to make landfall on Wednesday

Streets in Okaloosa County were already experiencing minor flooding in the hours before Hurricane Michael was due to make landfall on Wednesday

Streets in Okaloosa County were already experiencing minor flooding in the hours before Hurricane Michael was due to make landfall on Wednesday

Roadways were already flooded in parts of Florida with Michael forecast to bring 155 mph destructive winds, up to a foot of rain and a life-threatening storm surge of up to 14 feet when it hits

Roadways were already flooded in parts of Florida with Michael forecast to bring 155 mph destructive winds, up to a foot of rain and a life-threatening storm surge of up to 14 feet when it hits

Roadways were already flooded in parts of Florida with Michael forecast to bring 155 mph destructive winds, up to a foot of rain and a life-threatening storm surge of up to 14 feet when it hits

Strong winds had already caused trees to fall in Okaloosa County on Wednesday morning

Strong winds had already caused trees to fall in Okaloosa County on Wednesday morning

Strong winds had already caused trees to fall in Okaloosa County on Wednesday morning

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan bluntly advised residents choosing to ride it out that first-responders won’t be able to reach them while Michael smashes into the coast. 

‘If you decide to stay in your home and a tree falls on your house or the storm surge catches you and you’re now calling for help, there’s no one that can respond to help you,’ Morgan said at a news conference. 

In the small Panhandle city of Apalachicola, Mayor Van Johnson Sr. said the 2,300 residents were frantically preparing for what could be a strike unlike any seen there in decades. Many filled sandbags and boarded up homes and lined up to buy gas and groceries before leaving town.

‘We’re looking at a significant storm with significant impact, possibly greater than I’ve seen in my 59 years of life,’ Johnson said of his city on the shore of Apalachicola Bay, which where about 90 percent of Florida’s oysters are harvested.

There will be no shelters open in Wakulla County, the sheriff’s office warned on Facebook, because they are rated safe only for hurricanes with top sustained winds below 111 mph. With Michael’s winds projected to be even stronger, residents were urged to evacuate inland.

‘This storm has the potential to be a historic storm, please take heed,’ the sheriff’s office said in the post.

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, told President Trump in a briefing shortly before the eye of the storm hit that it was the 'worst kind' of hurricane

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, told President Trump in a briefing shortly before the eye of the storm hit that it was the 'worst kind' of hurricane

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, told President Trump in a briefing shortly before the eye of the storm hit that it was the ‘worst kind’ of hurricane

Emily Hindle lies on the floor at an evacuation shelter set up at Rutherford High School near Panama City Beach on Wednesday 

Emily Hindle lies on the floor at an evacuation shelter set up at Rutherford High School near Panama City Beach on Wednesday 

Emily Hindle lies on the floor at an evacuation shelter set up at Rutherford High School near Panama City Beach on Wednesday 

People wait for breakfast as they and others seek safety in a shelter in Panama City on Wednesday

People wait for breakfast as they and others seek safety in a shelter in Panama City on Wednesday

People wait for breakfast as they and others seek safety in a shelter in Panama City on Wednesday

Heavy rains started lashing Panama City in Florida early Wednesday morning before Hurricane Michael was expected to make landfall 

Heavy rains started lashing Panama City in Florida early Wednesday morning before Hurricane Michael was expected to make landfall 

Heavy rains started lashing Panama City in Florida early Wednesday morning before Hurricane Michael was expected to make landfall 

Heavy surf from the approaching Hurricane Michael pounds the fishing pier on Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach 

Heavy surf from the approaching Hurricane Michael pounds the fishing pier on Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach 

Heavy surf from the approaching Hurricane Michael pounds the fishing pier on Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach 

Workers board the windows of Marco's Pizza on Tuesday as Hurricane Michael approaches in Panama City Beach, Florida

Workers board the windows of Marco's Pizza on Tuesday as Hurricane Michael approaches in Panama City Beach, Florida

Workers board the windows of Marco’s Pizza on Tuesday as Hurricane Michael approaches in Panama City Beach, Florida

People fill bags with sand at the Lynn Haven Sports Complex while preparing for Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida

People fill bags with sand at the Lynn Haven Sports Complex while preparing for Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida

People fill bags with sand at the Lynn Haven Sports Complex while preparing for Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida

Georgia governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency in 92 counties on Tuesday morning. 

In neighboring Alabama, Governor Kay Ivey declared an emergency for the entire state on Monday in anticipation of wind damage, heavy rains and power outages.

North Carolina’s governor said he was afraid Hurricane Michael could slow the recovery for homeowners dealing with wind or flooding from Hurricane Florence.

Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday that Michael isn’t expected to hit his state as hard as Florence did last month, but people shouldn’t let their guard down, even if they’re suffering from cleanup fatigue. He said many houses that suffered roof damage in Florence are still covered in tarps and could be vulnerable to strong wind and rain. 

As the storm moved north on Tuesday it battered Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and western Cuba with drenching rains and winds of up to 80 mph. 

Torrential downpours and flash-flooding over the weekend caused 13 deaths in Central America after Michael formed off the coast of northern Honduras.

Hurricane Michael would be the first major hurricane to hit the panhandle since Hurricane Dennis in 2005, which made landfall near Pensacola, according to hurricane center data. 

The sinister-looking skull appeared briefly on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite images on Tuesday as Hurricane Michael moved closer to Florida

The sinister-looking skull appeared briefly on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite images on Tuesday as Hurricane Michael moved closer to Florida

The sinister-looking skull appeared briefly on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite images on Tuesday as Hurricane Michael moved closer to Florida

The storm has triggered alerts stretching from southeast Louisiana all the way to the Tampa region

 

Scores of Panhandle residents IGNORE evacuation orders to ride out Category 4 Hurricane Michael as officials warn it’s now too late to flee 

By Keith Griffith for DailyMail.com 

Some residents of the Florida Panhandle have decided to risk their own lives by refusing to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Michael, with the window to flee the coast now officially closed. 

Despite days of dire warnings, these holdouts have decided to remain – and some even talk of attending a ‘hurricane party’ at a Panama City Beach bar that lies directly in Michael’s path. 

For those who refused to evacuate, FEMA Director Brock Long said on Wednesday that people ‘who stick around and experience storm surge unfortunately don’t usually live to tell about it.’  

‘The time for evacuating along the coast has come and gone. First responders will not be able to come out in the middle of the storm,’ Florida Governor Rick Scott said in a tweet on Wednesday morning.

‘If you chose to stay in an evacuation zone, you must SEEK REFUGE IMMEDIATELY,’ Scott wrote.

In Bay County, encompassing Panama City Beach where Michael is expected to make landfall as a Category 4 on Wednesday, roads are now closed and a mandatory shelter-in-place order has been issued. 

Residents who chose not to evacuate gather at Buster's Beer & Bait for drinks in Panama City Beach on Tuesday night. The evacuation window closed on Wednesday morning

Residents who chose not to evacuate gather at Buster's Beer & Bait for drinks in Panama City Beach on Tuesday night. The evacuation window closed on Wednesday morning

Residents who chose not to evacuate gather at Buster’s Beer & Bait for drinks in Panama City Beach on Tuesday night. The evacuation window closed on Wednesday morning

Timothy Thomas is just a few hundred yards from the beach where Michael is expected to make landfall, but believes he will be safe in his second story apartment

Timothy Thomas is just a few hundred yards from the beach where Michael is expected to make landfall, but believes he will be safe in his second story apartment

Timothy Thomas is just a few hundred yards from the beach where Michael is expected to make landfall, but believes he will be safe in his second story apartment

Fire and emergency medical services were suspended in Bay County just before 8am local time on Wednesday. 

‘Life threatening conditions are beginning to occur in Bay County. It is now time to shelter in place. Go inside, stay inside. Seek shelter in an interior room with few windows,’ Bay County Emergency Services said in a flash bulletin. 

Among the evacuation holdouts is Timothy Thomas, who isn’t budging from his home in Panama City Beach, even though it’s directly in the path of Hurricane Michael.

Thomas, a 50-year-old air conditioning repairman, plans to defy an evacuation order and ride out the monster storm in an apartment that’s just a few hundred yards from the beach and even closer to the tea-colored Grand Lagoon, which will rise as the massive storm pushes ocean water toward the coast.

An Illinois native with a beard, long hair and a streak of independence, Thomas hasn’t been through a major hurricane before; he’s only lived in Panama City Beach about seven years. 

A neighbor with far more storm experience evacuated to higher ground. 

But police aren’t being pushy about enforcing the order, and Thomas figures he, his wife and their puppy will be OK since they live in a second-floor apartment. 

It’s more than 10 feet off the ground, after all, and forecasters say the water in his area isn’t supposed to rise that much. ‘If it does I guess we’ll be swimming,’ he said Tuesday evening as the sky darkened overhead.

Thomas isn’t alone; other residents along his street also plan to take on Michael head-on, even though authorities have told about 120,000 residents of Bay County to leave. 

Cameron Sadowski walks along where waves are crashing onto the beach as the outer bands of hurricane Michael arrive on Wednesday in Panama City Beach, Florida

Cameron Sadowski walks along where waves are crashing onto the beach as the outer bands of hurricane Michael arrive on Wednesday in Panama City Beach, Florida

Cameron Sadowski walks along where waves are crashing onto the beach as the outer bands of hurricane Michael arrive on Wednesday in Panama City Beach, Florida

Dwight Williams (left) and Timothy Thomas debate whether to evacuate their neighborhood in Panama City Beach on Tuesday. Thomas figures he and his wife will be safe from rising ocean water since they live in a second-story apartment, but Williams planned to leave

Dwight Williams (left) and Timothy Thomas debate whether to evacuate their neighborhood in Panama City Beach on Tuesday. Thomas figures he and his wife will be safe from rising ocean water since they live in a second-story apartment, but Williams planned to leave

Dwight Williams (left) and Timothy Thomas debate whether to evacuate their neighborhood in Panama City Beach on Tuesday. Thomas figures he and his wife will be safe from rising ocean water since they live in a second-story apartment, but Williams planned to leave

Thomas’ first-floor neighbors also plan to stay, and they’re welcome upstairs if the water gets too high, Thomas said. So are his next-door neighbors and their dog.

‘We’ve got canned food and a can opener. We have lots of water and food for the dogs, and I’m going to tape up the windows, cover the windows, just tack them up with sheets or whatever, to keep the glass from flying if that happens,’ he said.

As Thomas spoke, a hurricane party was going on less than two miles away at Buster’s Beer and Bait, a dive bar popular both with locals and tourists who overwhelm the region during the summer. 

With Michael percolating out in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday night, dozens of people gathered outside Buster’s as small palm trees swayed in the breeze nearby.

On the bar’s Facebook page, a $5 special was announced for a drink called the ‘Storm Surge’. There was no answer at the bar when DailyMail.com attempted to reach it by phone on Wednesday morning.

Other places were shut down and locked up. The windows were covered with metal hurricane shutters at Pineapple Willie’s, a popular beachfront restaurant, and sandbags blocked the entrance to a Wells Fargo bank. Plywood covered the front at Shrimp City, a small seafood market.

Dwight Williams, who lives across the street from Thomas, wasn’t taking any chances – he and his wife were packing to evacuate. 

They plan to stay with friends in DeFuniak Springs, a Panhandle town about 30 miles inland. Their single-story home is built to withstand winds blowing up to 130 mph, Williams said, but rising water is scary.

‘What worries me is the storm surge,’ said Williams, who has lived on the street about 24 years.

Thomas said relatives in Illinois had urged him to leave and stay with them, but he didn’t have a way to get so far north so quickly, and shelters aren’t a good option in his view.

Cornell Silveira, of Keaton Beach, leaves with some of his belongings as he evacuates his home as Hurricane Michael approaches the area Wednesday

Cornell Silveira, of Keaton Beach, leaves with some of his belongings as he evacuates his home as Hurricane Michael approaches the area Wednesday

Cornell Silveira, of Keaton Beach, leaves with some of his belongings as he evacuates his home as Hurricane Michael approaches the area Wednesday

‘You never know who you’re sleeping beside,’ he said. ‘Here, I do.’

So Thomas and his wife will stay put. And once the wind stops howling and the water recedes, Thomas will await the natural outcome of a hurricane for someone who works in the air conditioning business in a place known for hot, humid summers.

‘After all the air conditioners go under water, we’ll be busy,’ he said.  

Another Panama City Beach resident, Teri Vega, 53, said her husband and 12-year-old daughter will remain despite the evacuation order.

‘We have a fairly new house,’ Vega told NBC News before Michael strengthened to a Category 4 storm.

‘It was built really well. We put the hurricane shutters up. We have tubs of water in each of the bathrooms so that we can still flush. We have a generator. We have a gas grill. Tons of canned food, water, Gatorade.’ 

Inland in Panama City, Missy Theiss, 54, told NBC News that she lives just outside a mandatory evacuation zone, but planned to stay because they have five animals — two cats, two small dogs, and a pit bull.

‘Nobody is going to let a pit bull into a shelter,’ Thiess said before Michael was upgraded. ‘We’ve got five animals here. I’m not leaving them. Point blank. I’m not leaving them.’ Thiess said the family is prepared with water, food and a generator.

About 90 miles west of Panama City Beach, in Pensacola Beach, one man even planned to ride out the storm on his sailing boat.

 

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