'Like a ten mile wide tornado' Hurricane Michael leaves destruction along the northern Gulf Coast

Panama City, FL

As of 8 AM ET on Thursday, Hurricane Michael has been reduced to a tropical storm, with sustained winds of 50 mph moving across Georgia into South Carolina as it flings off bands of rain and loses the tight organization that brought it ashore with such unexpected power. The remnants of Michael are expected to continue across South Carolina and North Carolina before passing back out to see and drifting away from the coast. Parts of Virginia and North Carolina, still soaked from the slow-moving Hurricane Florence, can expect as much as 10 inches of additional rain.

In the wake of the storm emergency services and utility crews are only beginning to come to grips with destruction left in the wake of what appears to be the third most intense storm to ever strike the US mainland. Most of the footage seen on the nation’s televisions as the storm came aground on Wednesday afternoon came from vacation hotspots around Panama City. That area saw a prolonged period of winds about 100 mph, with many downed trees and damaged buildings. But the real center of the storm struck further east, along a less developed stretch known as “the Forgotten Coast.” In that area the storm’s destruction was near absolute.

As the Tallahassee Democrat reports, the coastline from Mexico Beach to St. Marks was left “in ruins.”  Around 50 people chose to ride out the storm on one of the barrier islands off the coast from Mexico Beach. As of Thursday morning, authorities had not been able to contact them. During the storm, those islands were completely over-topped by surge that reached at least 9’ above ground level.

Despite predictions just a day in advance that the storm would be much less powerful, authorities report that evacuation from the area was good, with the great majority of residents moving inland and many of those who remained in the region moving to shelters. Some who treated Michael like just another storm and decided to stay home are now regretting that decision.

Danny Getter, his wife and kids and other families hunkered down at their house on 4th Street in Apalachicola. … “I will never stay in a Category 4 ever again. Had we thought or even imagined it would be a 4 or 5 a few days ago, we would have made arrangements to leave.”

At least two people are known to have died in the storm. 

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