Friday, 14 December, 2018

One dead as monstrous Hurricane Michael tears into Florida

National Hurricane Center forecast track National Hurricane Center forecast track
Kristen Harrington | 12 October, 2018, 01:55

The storm will go down in history as the third strongest to hit the United States mainland in recorded history after making landfall Wednesday as a Category 4 colossus with sustained winds of 155 miles per hour - just 2 miles per hour short of iconic Category 5 status. As of Thursday morning, the storm was centered about 40 miles west-northwest of Columbia, South Carolina, and is headed northeast.

Search and rescue teams are still working in areas across the Florida Panhandle to reach people who are trapped.

In Alabama, the entire state was under an emergency declaration.

What are the latest developments?

Hurricane Michael's assault on the Florida Panhandle left nothing more than empty foundations and heaps of rubble in some parts of the small towns it crashed into with near-record force. As a result, the northeastern Gulf Coast is undergoing mandatory evacuations - that includes the Florida Panhandle (stretching into Big Bend) as well as parts of southeast Alabama and southern Georgia.

Minutes earlier, Michael's eyewall came ashore between Panama City and St. Vincent Island, and the hurricane center warned everyone inside the relative calm of the eye not to venture outside.

Michael was a Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane intensity scale, just shy of a rare Category 5, when it came ashore.

Michael is now moving northwards at 12mph.

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Waves crash on stilt houses along the shore due to Hurricane Michael at Alligator Point in Franklin County, Florida, U.S., October 10, 2018. Michael could dump up to a foot over the Panhandle as it moves inland.

Florida Governor Rick Scott called Michael "monstrous storm" and urged residents to listen to officials.

"Along our coast, communities are going to see unimaginable devastation", Scott said, with storm surge posing the greatest danger. Popular with tourists for its beaches, the area also has many year-round residents.

"Do not risk your life, leave NOW if you were told to do so", it said. Forecasters are also predicting the possibility of spinoff tornadoes.

Despite the storm, Trump went to his Wednesday night rally in Pennsylvania, telling reporters beforehand, "We have thousands of people lined up".

Adrian Mahangos hopes he is one of the lucky ones.

He said the storm would still have hurricane-force winds as it pushed through Florida into Georgia and tropical storm-force winds when it reaches the Carolinas, which are still reeling from post-Florence flooding.

From Cedar Key to Crystal River, Florida, 6 to 8 feet of storm surge is forecast.

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Across the bay in Panama City Beach, a resort city on the Gulf of Mexico known for its white-sand beach and amusement parks, winds of about 100 miles per hour furiously whipped the trees in the early afternoon and pulled apart homes.

A man in the distance is gathering sand from the beach while it's still light and pouring it into trash bags - making do with what's at hand to protect from the water.

"We've instructed our students to follow the instructions of the local authorities and to just be vigilant during the storm", Ms Johnson said.

Those that remain will be facing a frightening ordeal.

Cruise ship Empress of the Seas reportedly got caught in Hurricane Michael's outer bands, CNN reported. Six people died in Honduras, four in Nicaragua and three in El Salvador.

Images on social media showed evacuating families wading through water to get to safety.

Even before landfall, the hurricane disrupted energy operations in the Gulf, cutting crude oil production by more than 40 percent and natural gas output by almost one-third as offshore platforms were evacuated before the storm hit.

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