Hurricane Michael barreled into the Florida Panhandle with winds of 155mph Wednesday, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake, as it became the most powerful storm to ever hit the region – and the fourth strongest to make landfall in the US.
Roads were flooded, trees uprooted and homes destroyed after the ‘monstrous’ storm ploughed into Mexico Beach at around 2pm and swept across the state.
At least two people have been killed including an 11-year-old child in Seminole County, Georgia, who died after a tree fell on her home.
A man in Greensboro, Florida was also killed when a tree crashed through his home and trapped him. Downed power lines and blocked roads stopped emergency crews getting to him in time.
More than 500,000 homes and businesses in Florida, Georgia and Alabama have been left without power as the storm moves north east before ending up in the Atlantic by Friday.
In terms of wind speed, Michael is the fourth strongest storm ever to hit the US after Andrew in 1992, Camille in 1969 and an unnamed Labor Day Hurricane in 1935 which had winds of 184mph.
Scientists say it was so strong because warm waters of 84F (29C) extended unusually far up the northern Gulf Coast for this time of year after Florida had its warmest September ever.
The storm came ashore as a category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson wind scale, before it was downgraded to a category 3. By 8pm, it was down to a category 1.
The winds were so strong they brought down a billboard in Florida’s Panama City, tore down a Texaco gas pumping station canopy in Inlet Beach and caused a storm surge that completely knocked a house off its foundations in Mexico Beach.
Beachfront structures could be seen collapsing and metal roofing materials were blown away amid the heavy rain. Murky water was so high that roofs were about all that could be seen of many homes.
Hours earlier, meteorologists watched satellite imagery in complete awe as the storm intensified.
‘We are in new territory,’ National Hurricane Center Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen wrote on Facebook. ‘The historical record, going back to 1851, finds no Category 4 hurricane ever hitting the Florida panhandle.’
The University of Georgia’s Marshall Shepherd called it a ‘life-altering event’. More than 370,000 were ordered to evacuate but many refused.
By Wednesday night, the storm had moved north into South and North Carolina after sparking flash foods and property damage in Georgia.
The tropical storm moved across southwestern Georgia at about 20mph Wednesday night as it made its way northeast towards the Atlantic.
A tornado watch is in effect across south and central Georgia until 2am Thursday. Dramatic footage showed homes and cars submerged in flood waters as the hurricane battered the Sunshine State.
Forecasters warned rain could reach up to a foot and the life-threatening storm surge could swell to 14 feet.
Mexico Beach councilwoman Linda Albrecht told CNN that she fears she won’t have a home to go back to after the hurricane sweeps through the state.
‘It is extremely emotional,’ she said, fighting tears. ;It’s like a nightmare. You just want somebody to shake you and wake you up. How can this happen?’
‘I am hearing on TV, as all of us go home, it will be like a war zone,’ she added. ‘That’s the only thing I can imagine.’
Reid Garrett warned that every single building he’d seen in Panama City, had damage.
Meanwhile, President Trump came under fire for failing to visit Florida or the Carolinas as they were battered by the storm.
Speaking in a interview with Fox News on Wednesday night, Donald Trump explained that he’d wanted to attend his Wednesday rally instead because he didn’t want to let down his supporters.
‘If I didn’t go, they would also criticize,’ he explained. ‘This was set up a long time ago. We had thousands of people lined up from yesterday.
‘I mean literally they stayed 24 hours and sometimes more than that to go to these rallies. They like them. You probably saw the pictures on television tonight.
‘Thousands and thousands of people outside after the arena. It was a big arena. But it was full. We had 15 or beyond that thousand people outside. If I didn’t go, that would have been the wrong thing too.’
Trump said that he’d been in ‘constant communication’ with Florida governor Rick Scott and the governor of Alabama, and has ‘people in Florida’.
He added that it had been a ‘tough’ storm, offering the insight: ‘ The wind was probably more dangerous than anything else.’