Hurricane Michael at Category 4 status, prepares brutal hit on Florida
While many left Panama City Beach for higher ground, a stern few stayed behind to weather Hurricane Michael, expected to be a Category 4 storm that will hit the Florida Panhandle by midday Wednesday. (Oct. 10)
PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. – Perry and Mollie Williams walked a block from their home through the rain to check the surf while awaiting Hurricane Michael, forecast to blast this coastal city later Wednesday as the strongest storm ever to hit the state’s exposed Panhandle.
“It’s our first storm (forecast) to be on top of us,” said Mollie Williams, a 17-year resident. “We’ve had a number of them come into the Gulf, and either come to the left or the right of us. But never on top of us.”
“Potentially catastrophic” Michael was roaring toward the coast as a Category 4 storm Wednesday, with landfall expected for early afternoon, the National Hurricane Center said. Top sustained winds reached 150 mph – with higher gusts.
At 11:30 a.m. ET, Michael’s eye was about 50 miles south-southwest of Panama City, moving north-northeast at 14 mph. Florida Gov. Rick Scott said it was too late for people in the immediate path of the storm to flee.
“The time to evacuate coastal areas has come and gone,” Scott said at a news conference Wednesday. “If you are in an inland county you might have one more chance to evacuate, but only if local officials say it is safe.”
Perry Williams described their single-story home as “a fortress” and said the couple would ride out Michael with their three cats and a Rottweiler.
“We anchored everything down,” Mollie Williams said. “Shutters up on the windows, food, water, pet supplies. We’re just chilling, taking everything in.”
“Those who stick around to witness storm surge don’t typically live to talk about it,” Long said.
AccuWeather meteorologist Brett Rathbun estimated landfall for between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. ET as a Category 4 storm. No Category 4 storm has ever hit the Panhandle since record keeping began more than 150 years ago.
Tallahassee, a city of 200,000, sits 100 miles west of Panama City. The city was bracing for hurricane-force winds of up to 100 mph – enough to knock down a lot of trees and power lines, Rathbun warned.
Gale and James Berry fled to a city shelter in Lincoln High School’s cafeteria. Gale Berry, 59, says their neighborhood was littered with debris and downed trees after Hurricane Hermine, which made landfall in 2016 as a Category 1 storm. She had no interest in riding out a Category 4 in her mobile home.
“You don’t want to have to stay there,” she said. “You could die.”
Scott said 1,000 search and rescue personnel were ready to respond as soon as Michael passes. Another 3,500 National Guard members were also ready to deploy, he said. Brock Long, administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, had ominous words for people like Perry and Mollie Williams.
On a full-throttle journey from the Gulf of Mexico, Michael will bring “life-threatening” storm surge, hurricane-force winds and torrential rainfall after developing from a seemingly minor tropical storm off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula several days ago.
Long warned that the brutal storm would “stay intact” as a hurricane as it roars through the Florida Panhandle and through parts of Alabama and Georgia. The storm could leave wide swaths of the region powerless for weeks, he said.
The worst could come in Florida’s “Big Bend,” a loosely defined area of the eastern Panhandle where the coastline bends to the south. Kenneth Graham, director of the hurricane center, said storm surge will inundate the Aucilla River to a point where it will “flow backward.”
“This is a nightmare hurricane for the Big Bend,” said Ryan Truchelut, chief meteorologist at WeatherTiger. “Michael will be of a landfall intensity not seen for at least 100 years, and perhaps more.”
About 3.7 million people are under hurricane warnings, from the Panhandle and Big Bend areas in Florida into parts of southeastern Alabama and southern Georgia. The National Hurricane Center is predicting storm surges up to 14 feet in some areas, plus heavy rainfall through Florida’s Panhandle and into Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, up to 12 inches in isolated locations.
On its current track, the the core of Michael is expected to move northeastward across the southeastern United States Wednesday night and Thursday, and then move off the Mid-Atlantic coast away from the United States on Friday.
Contributing: Steve Kiggins and Nada Hassanein, USA TODAY NETWORK
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