Published: Thu, October 11, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Michael downgraded to tropical storm, but still packing a punch

Michael downgraded to tropical storm, but still packing a punch

Its winds shrieking, the Category 4 storm crashed ashore in the early afternoon near Mexico Beach, a tourist town about midway along the Panhandle, a lightly populated, 200-mile stretch of white-sand beach resorts, fishing towns and military bases.

Supercharged by abnormally warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle with terrifying winds of 155 miles per hour Wednesday, splintering homes and submerging neighborhoods.

Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama issued a state-wide state of emergency on Monday "in anticipation of wide-spread power outages, wind damage, and debris produced by high winds and heavy rain associated with Hurricane Michael".

"Oh my God, what are we seeing?" said evacuee Rachel Franklin, her mouth hanging open.

A woman makes her way to an evacuation shelter in Tallahassee, Florida.

A tweet by ABC News chief meteorologist Ginger Zee also showed a what appeared to be a structure that had been torn apart by the storm, its wooden remnants littered like toothpicks in the flood waters. More than 375,000 people had been urged or ordered to evacuate, but emergency authorities lamented that many people ignored the warnings and seemed to think they could ride it out.

A Red Cross official said it's possible that as many as 320,000 people on Florida's Gulf Coast did not evacuate and are likely riding out the storm.

After being battered for almost three hours by strong winds and heavy rains, roads in Panama City were virtually impassable and trees, satellite dishes and traffic lights lay in the streets.

Image: Hurricane Michael seen from the International Space Station.

By 8pm, Michael was weakened to category-1 storm, with wind gusts reaching 90mph (144kph), the National Hurricane Center reported.

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"Those who stick around to experience storm surge don't typically live to tell about it", said FEMA's Long. "It was weird. We went outside and you could smell the pine, and there it was, laying on the chimney".

Michael, located about 20 miles (30 kilometers) southwest of Albany, Georgia and packing maximum sustained winds of 90 miles per hour (150 km/h), is forecast to become post-tropical cyclone on Friday, the Miami-based weather forecaster said.

"This is total devastation", she told CNN.

One storm-related death has been confirmed. "Do not risk your life, leave NOW if you were told to do so", it said.

There have been mandatory evacuations of several coastal counties in Florida, so the full extent of the damage will not be clear until later today. "Things happen to even the most experienced chasers", said Rachael Adair.

In all, more than 400 people died in Florida.

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

The Carolinas are still recovering from Hurricane Florence, which left dozens dead and is estimated to have caused billions of dollars in damage last month. The hospital said it is running off of generators and patients have been moved to safe areas of the facility.

As the hurricane moves out of Florida, Scott warned that flash floods and tornadoes are still possibilities and said "the weather is still extremely unsafe". More than 40,000 people lost power across the state.

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