Hurricane Michael makes landfall in Florida: 'Our worst fears realized'

Hurricane Michael devastates Florida

Michael slams Florida Panhandle

The storm blew ashore early Wednesday afternoon near Florida's Mexico Beach as a Category 4 hurricane. It was just short of being categorized as level 5. With winds surging to 155 mph (250 kph), Michael wreaked havoc on the Florida Panhandle, leaving a devastating trail of destruction along the Gulf coast before it was downgraded to a tropical storm in the evening as it moved further inland.

Hurricane Michael devastates Florida

Cities devastated

Numerous buildings in Panama City were demolished, partially collapsed or without roofs amid deserted streets littered with debris, twisted, fallen tree trunks and dangling wires. About 3,500 Florida National Guard troops were deployed to assist with evacuations and storm recovery, along with more than 1,000 search-and-rescue personnel, Florida Governor Rick Scott said. One person has died so far.

Hurricane Michael devastates Florida

Thousands evacuated

Some 375,000 people were ordered to evacuate their homes, but many residents found themselves trapped after they were caught unawares when the storm doubled in strength as it approached land. "It really started as a tropical storm, and then it went to Category 1, then it was Category 2 and before you know it, it was Category 4," said US Air Force General Terrence O'Shaughnessy.

Hurricane Michael devastates Florida

Widespread power outages

More than 400,000 people in Florida, Georgia and Alabama were without power. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) chief Brock Long said many buildings were not built to withstand a storm above the strength of a Category 3 hurricane. Long said Michael was one of the most intense hurricanes to hit the area since 1851.

Hurricane Michael devastates Florida

Storm heads for Carolinas

As Michael plows northward up the Atlantic seaboard, the governors of North and South Carolina urged residents to brace for more heavy rain and storm-force winds. Both states are still recovering from major flooding following Hurricane Florence less than a month ago.

Hurricane Michael devastates Florida

Extent of damage unknown

Authorities said the full extent of devastation would not be known until after daybreak in Florida on Thursday. In the meantime, curfews were imposed across much of the region. Last year saw a slew of catastrophic storms batter the western Atlantic, including Irma, Maria and Harvey, which caused at least $125 billion (€108.2 billion) in damage when it flooded the Houston metropolitan area.

Hurricane Michael has caused widespread damage across the Florida Panhandle. The Category 4 monster was among the most powerful hurricanes in half a century to strike the mainland United States.

Hurricane Michael churned through the Florida Panhandle packing 155-mph (250-kph) winds on Wednesday afternoon, unleashing devastation along the Gulf Coast as it moved inland into Georgia.

Nature and Environment | 21.09.2018

The storm had the lowest barometric reading of a hurricane to make landfall since 1969, making it the most intense storm to hit the continental US in half a century. Michael was also the most powerful hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle.

The storm slammed ashore early afternoon near Mexico Beach as a Category 4 hurricane on the five-level Saffir-Simpson wind scale, uprooting trees and power lines, dumping rain and causing severe flooding.

"Michael saw our worst fears realized, of rapid intensification just before landfall on a part of a coastline that has never experienced a Category 4 hurricane," said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy.

Authorities said a man in the town of Greensboro was killed by a falling tree when it crashed through the roof of his house and a girl died when debris fell into a home in Georgia.

Some 375,000 people had been urged to leave their homes for stronger shelters in Florida, but many residents were trapped after they were caught surprised by the storm doubling in strength as it approached land.

By Wednesday night, more than 400,000 people in Florida, Georgia and Alabama were without power. 

Emergency alerts for Alabama, Georgia

The storm's strength diminished to a Category 1 storm with 75-mph (120-kph) winds as it moved into Georgia late Wednesday. It was projected to cut through the state and move into the Carolinas as a tropical storm on Thursday. 

The governors of North and South Carolina urged residents to prepare for heavy rain and winds, which come less than a month after Hurricane Florence battered the mid-Atlantic coast. 

The storm surge at Saint Marks, Florida

President Donald Trump said he had spoken with Florida Governor Rick Scott on Tuesday, and federal emergency services were coordinating with regional agencies in the areas likely to be impacted.

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"It is imperative that you heed the directions of your State and Local Officials. Please be prepared, be careful and be SAFE!" the president tweeted to residents of Florida and Georgia.

Lincoln High School has become a refuge from the storm

Climate change bringing more destructive storms

In the past year, several massive storms battered the US coasts, including Irma, Maria and Harvey. Houston's metropolitan area suffered a record-equaling $125 billion (€108 billion) in damage. North and South Carolina are still reeling from Hurricane Florence last month.

Climate scientists have long warned that the effects of global warming make storms more destructive and point to last year's string of hurricanes as visible evidence.

cw, es/jm (AP, Reuters)

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