Hurricane Michael, which made landfall as a Category 4 storm, is the third most powerful to strike the US mainland and the fiercest to hit Florida in 80 years.
There are two confirmed deaths from Hurricane Michael as of this writing. A man in Florida was killed when a tree fell onto his home and in Georgia a girl died when debris fell into a home.
More than 700,000 structures in Florida, Alabama and Georgia were without power early Thursday morning. Thousands of people fled their homes to escape the storm and hunkered down in public shelters overnight.
Winds reached 155 miles per hour, blowing through communities in Florida’s Panhandle, destroying buildings, downing trees and knocking out power. Television footage shows some streets and residential areas to be flooded roof-high.
In Panama City, multiple buildings were blown over or made roofless. The streets were littered with debris, including trees and power lines.
In Apalachicola, a small town of 2,300 residents, floodwaters were nearly seven feet deep. Wind damage was also observed, with so many downed power lines and trees “that it’s almost impossible to get through the city,” according to Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson.
Michael intensified rapidly over the warm Gulf of Mexico waters and took many people by surprise. Mexico Beach, about 20 miles southeast of Panama City, was the site of landfall on Wednesday afternoon. Around 280 people ignored evacuation orders – their fates are unknown as of this writing.
Brock Long, head of FEMA, acknowledged that evacuation efforts were slow when compared to how fast Michael intensified over the gulf. The storm ballooned in only 40 hours from a tropical storm to a Category 4 monster.
President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for all of Florida, which frees federal assistance to join state and local disaster responses.
Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina Governors all declared states of emergency as well, warning residents to seek shelter for the storm. While Michael has weakened, it is still expected to produce storm-force winds and dump many inches of rain as it makes its way northeast along the Atlantic seaboard.