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Hurricane Michael lands as one of strongest hurricanes to ever hit US

A man takes selfies, defying the strong winds near to the city pier early morning Wednesday in Panama City Beach, as Florida's Panhandle prepares for its worst hurricane strike in at least a decade. Hurricane Michael gained power overnight and was on track to strike somewhere near Panama City on Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 10, 2018.

PEDRO PORTAL/MIAMI HERALD/TNS

By JENNY JARVIE AND MATT PEARCE | Los Angeles Times | Published: October 10, 2018

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Shortly before slamming Florida’s Panhandle, Hurricane Michael strengthened Wednesday to become one of the most powerful hurricanes on record to hit the U.S., a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 150 mph that is expected to flood the coast with deadly storm surge.

The National Weather Service said this afternoon that Hurricane Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph — just 2 mph away from being classified as a Category 5 storm.

The storm’s central pressure had plunged to 919 millibars, the lowest recorded for any hurricane to hit the U.S. except for Hurricane Camille in 1969 and an unnamed hurricane in 1935, which were both storms with Category 5 winds. The lower central pressure is a sign of greater power.

Local media reports said that one of the area’s barrier islands, Dog Island, which is accessible only by boat, was underwater. On the mainland coast, powerful winds had begun ripping roofs from buildings and branches from trees as officials and residents huddled in shelters to ride out the worst of the hurricane.

The storm swept north-northwest over the northeastern Gulf of Mexico early Wednesday, generating official warnings for residents to seek shelter.

Michael is forecast to lash coastal areas of Florida, Alabama and Georgia with as much as 12 inches of rain. Farther inland, damaging winds, torrential rain and life-threatening flash floods are forecast for parts of Georgia and Alabama.

“This is the worst storm that our Florida Panhandle has seen in a century,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said at a news conference at the state’s emergency operations center in Tallahassee. “Hurricane Michael is upon us and now is the time to seek refuge.”

Before dawn, residents along the Florida Gulf Coast scrambled to shelters as the National Hurricane Center called Michael “potentially catastrophic” and warned of a life-threatening storm surge, powerful winds and torrential rain.

More than 2 million Florida residents were under mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders and a hurricane warning was in effect from the Alabama state line to the mouth of the Suwannee River. A storm surge warning was also in effect from Florida’s Okaloosa-Walton county line to the Anclote River near Tampa.

The National Hurricane Center expects Michael to move inland Wednesday and then weaken as it moves northeast across the southeastern United States on Wednesday night and Thursday.

One of the biggest concerns on the coast is storm surge. If the storm moves ashore during high tide, a 130-mile stretch of the coast from Tyndall Air Force Base to the Aucilla River could see storm surges as high as 14 feet.

As the rain bore down in Panama City, a steady stream of evacuees filled Rutherford High School, hauling yapping dogs, crying babies, blankets, mattress pads, oxygen tanks, folding chairs, crates of water and grocery bags stuffed with Wonder bread and Doritos.

Patricia Barnes, a 76-year-old retired bookkeeper, was a little short of breath and her blood pressure was up when she arrived at the shelter. She had stayed up all night watching the TV news and comforting herself with the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

Initially, she and her husband had planned to ride Michael out at their home in Lynn Haven, a small coastal town seven miles north — until they heard it had strengthened to a Category 4.

“It’s better to be safe,” she said.

Huddling in an outdoor breezeway while her sister put her Jack Russell terrier, Skooter, in a hallway reserved for pets, Barnes approached a volunteer: “You got a room for me?”

Shaking his head, the volunteer told her he only had space in open hallways. He scooped up her blankets and pillows and ushered her to a narrow hall lined with gray metal lockers.

Evacuees seemed to occupy every inch of the sprawling brick high school, spreading blankets and mattresses in classrooms, hallways and the cafeteria. Some rested their heads on wooden desks or curled up in sleeping bags on linoleum floors, while others passed the time playing cards, reading paperbacks or monitoring the hurricane on their cellphones.

In her rush to find a cab in the middle of the night to get her to the shelter, Tamika Rowe, 27, a criminology student who moved to the area a few months ago from Jamaica, had grabbed important documents like her birth certificate and passport. She had not thought to bring blankets or pillows.

“It’s not going to be easy sleeping,” she said ruefully after she had picked a narrow space on a linoleum floor in a hallway.

More than 50 shelters were open across Florida. In Bay County, emergency officials urged residents to stay off the roads and warned those who still remained in their homes to stay inside and seek shelter in an interior room with few windows.

According to meteorologists, no Category 4 or 5 hurricane has made landfall in the Florida Panhandle since record-keeping began in 1851.

The last major hurricane to strike this part of Florida was Dennis, which made landfall as a Category 3 storm on Santa Rosa Island, about 40 miles east of Pensacola, in 2005. Since 1950, only two other two major hurricanes have made landfall in the region: Eloise in 1975 and Opal in 1995.

In 2016, Hurricane Hermine reached land as a Category 1 storm, leaving hundreds of thousands of residents — including more than 80 percent of residents of the state capital, Tallahassee — without electricity.

Michael could cause as many as 1.8 million customers to lose power in Florida and southern Georgia, according to a computer model run by the Guikema Research Group at the University of Michigan.

©2018 Los Angeles Times
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

Members of Florida National Guard CBRN Enhanced Response Force Package prepare for Hurricane Michael on Oct. 9, 2018.
CHING OETTEL/FLORIDA NATIONAL GUARD

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