Michael charges into US Southeast after slamming north Florida

Michael charges into US Southeast after slamming north Florida
PHOTOS: On the scene in Florida as powerful Hurricane Michael makes landfall
The most powerful hurricane on record to hit Florida's Panhandle left wide destruction and at least two people dead and wasn't nearly finished Thursday as it crossed Georgia, now as a tropical storm, toward the Carolinas, that are still reeling from epic flooding by Hurricane Florence.

A day after the supercharged storm crashed ashore amid white sand beaches, fishing towns and military bases, Michael was no longer a Category 4 monster packing 250 km/h winds. As the tropical storm continued to weaken it was still menacing the Southeast with heavy rains, blustery winds and possible spinoff tornadoes.

If you are in the affected areas, you should follow evacuation orders, exercise caution, monitor local news and weather reports, and follow the instructions of local authorities. Contact your travel agent or tour operator to determine if the situation will disrupt your travel arrangements.

Hurricane Michael upgraded to Category 4 storm

Authorities said at least two people have died, a man killed by a tree falling on a Panhandle home and according to WMAZ-TV, an 11-year-old girl was also killed by a tree falling on a home in southwest Georgia. Search and rescue crews were expected to escalate efforts to reach hardest-hit areas and check for anyone trapped or injured.

VIDEO: Hurricane Michael has intensified into an Category 4 storm as it moved toward the Florida Panhandle, where it could blow ashore as the strongest storm to hit the United States this year.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the eye of Michael was about 40 kilometres east of Macon in central Georgia at 2:00 a.m. ET Thursday. As of 5 a.m. ET, the storm had top sustained winds of 85 km/h as it moved northeast.

The U.S. National Hurricane Centre predicts that Hurricane Michael will make landfall on the Gulf Coast, between the Alabama-Florida border and the Suwanee River, in Florida, on Wednesday.

Its centre will move through eastern Georgia into central South Carolina later in the morning, then moves across portions of central and eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia into the Atlantic Ocean by late Thursday or early Friday.

The Canadian government is advising residents to avoid any unnecessary travel through the affected areas.

'It was terrifying'After daylight Thursday residents of north Florida would just be beginning to take stock of the enormity of the disaster.

Damage in Panama City near where Michael came ashore Wednesday afternoon was so extensive that broken and uprooted trees and downed power lines lay nearly everywhere. Roofs were peeled away, sent airborne, and homes were split open by fallen trees. Twisted street signs lay on the ground. Palm trees whipped wildly in the winds. More than 380,000 homes and businesses were without power at the height of the storm.

“A motion toward the northeast at a faster forward speed is forecast on Thursday through Friday night. On the forecast track, the core of Michael will move inland across the Florida Panhandle this afternoon, and across southeastern Alabama and southwestern Georgia tonight,” said the National Hurricane Center.

Vance Beu, 29, was staying with his mother at her home, Spring Gate Apartments, a complex of single-storey wood frame buildings where they piled up mattresses around themselves for protection. A pine tree punched a hole in their roof and his ears even popped when the barometric pressure went lower. The roar of the winds, he said, sounded like a jet engine.

As the storm hit, “Michael is upon us, it is time to seek refuge. Once you are sheltered, STAY PUT,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott tweeted. “Do not try to leave until the storm has passed. Multiple state and federal resources are staged and ready to respond as soon as it is safe.

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

Sally Crown rode out Michael on the Florida Panhandle thinking at first that the worst damage was the many trees downed in her yard. But after the storm passed, she emerged to check on the café she manages and discovered a scene of breathtaking destruction.

“Anybody that doesn’t evacuate that experiences storm surge doesn’t typically live to tell about that story,” Long said.

"It's absolutely horrendous. Catastrophic," Crown said. "There's flooding. Boats on the highway. A house on the highway. Houses that have been there forever are just shattered."

A Panhandle man was killed by a tree that toppled on a home, Gadsden County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Anglie Hightower said. But she added emergency crews trying to reach the home were hampered by downed trees and debris blocking roadways. The debris was a problem in many coastal communities and still hundreds of thousands of people were also left without power.

Mexico Beach, Florida, was crushed by Hurricane Michael on Oct. 10 as video footage emerged of shattered houses floating in storm surge water.

Gov. Rick Scott announced afterward that thousands of law enforcement officers, utility crews and search and rescue teams would now go into recovery mode. He said "aggressive" search and rescue efforts would get underway.

Michael is the worst hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle since the mid-1800s, the director of FEMA, Brock Long, told ABC News.

Michael sprang quickly from a weekend tropical depression, going from a Category 2 on Tuesday to a Category 4 by the time it came ashore. It forced more than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast to evacuate as it gained strength quickly while crossing the eastern Gulf of Mexico toward north Florida. It moved so fast that people didn't have much time to prepare, and emergency authorities lamented that many ignored the warnings and seemed to think they could ride it out.

Houses are almost completely underwater, and the only thing visible are home’s roofs in some areas, CNN reported.

In Panama City, plywood and metal flew off the front of a Holiday Inn Express. Part of the awning fell and shattered the glass front door of the hotel, and the rest of the awning wound up on vehicles parked below it.

Based on its internal barometric pressure, Michael was the third most powerful hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland, behind the unnamed Labour Day storm of 1935 and Camille in 1969. Based on wind speed, it was the fourth-strongest, behind the Labour Day storm, Camille and Andrew in 1992.

In Mexico Beach, population 1,000, the storm shattered homes, leaving floating piles of lumber. The lead-grey water was so high that roofs were about all that could be seen of many homes.

The storm is likely to fire up the debate over global warming. Scientists say global warming is responsible for more intense and more frequent extreme weather, such as storms, droughts, floods and fires. But without extensive study, they cannot directly link a single weather event to the changing climate.

After Michael left the Panhandle late Wednesday, Kaylee O'Brien was crying as she sorted through the remains of the apartment she shared with three roommates at Whispering Pines apartments, where the smell of broken pine trees was thick in the air. Four pine trees had crashed through the roof of her apartment, nearly hitting two people.

"We haven't seen her since the tree hit the den. She's my baby," a distraught O'Brien said, her face wet with tears.

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This Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018, satellite image provided by NOAA shows Hurricane Michael, centre, in the Gulf of Mexico.

Hurricane Michael has made landfall in Florida as a Category 4 hurricane with winds up to 249 km/h — the most powerful hurricane to hit mainland U.S. in nearly 50 years.

Evacuation orders were given to 500,000 people as the hurricane made landfall at Florida’s Panhandle, where 30 centimetres of rain and waves up to four-metres-high were expected.

As opposed to Hurricane Florence that struck the Carolinas in a slow, halting manner, Michael grew stronger quickly as it drew near shore.

The Florida region is bracing for “major infrastructure damage,” specifically to electricity distribution, wastewater treatment systems and transportation networks, Jeff Byard, associate administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), told reporters on a conference call.

Video: Hurricane Michael shreds through Florida

The storm already had a significant impact on offshore energy production. U.S. producers in the Gulf cut oil production by about 40 per cent and natural gas output by 28 per cent on Tuesday, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said.

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

After Florida, the storm is expected to hit Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas — which is still reeling from flooding from Hurricane Florence — and then into Virginia.

A woman checks on her vehicle as Hurricane Michael passes through, after the hotel canopy had just collapsed, in Panama City Beach, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018.

Emily Hindle lies on the floor at an evacuation shelter set up at Rutherford High School, in advance of Hurricane Michael, which is expected to make landfall in Panama City Beach, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018.

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, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018.

Video: Panama City residents describe Michaels fury

Palm trees are seen during Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla., on Oct. 10, 2018, in this picture obtained from social media.

An unidentified person takes pictures of the surf and fishing pier on Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, as Hurricane Michael approaches the Florida Gulf Coast.

Waves crash on stilt houses along the shore due to Hurricane Michael at Alligator Point in Franklin County, Fla., on Oct. 10, 2018. REUTERS/Steve Nesius

This photo made available by NASA shows the eye of Hurricane Michael, as seen from the International Space Station on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (NASA via AP)

Jayden Morgan carries his dog through a flooded street in St. Marks, Fla., on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, as his family evacuates at the last minute before Hurricane Michael hits the state. (AP Photo/Brendan Farrington)

A man walks out of a liquor store with a “Looters will be shot” sign before Hurricane Michael comes ashore in Carrabelle.

Justin Davis, left, and Brock Mclean board up a business in advance of Hurricane Michael in Destin, Fla., on Oct. 9, 2018. (REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman)

Jayden Morgan, 11, evacuates his home as water starts to flood his neighbourhood in St. Marks, Fla., ahead of Hurricane Michael. Gaining fury with every passing hour, Hurricane Michael closed in Wednesday on the Florida Panhandle with potentially catastrophic winds of 150 mph, the most powerful storm on record ever to menace the stretch of fishing towns, military bases and spring-break beaches. (AP Photo/Brendan Farrington)