The St. Marks River overflows into the city of St. Marks, Fla., ahead of Hurricane Michael, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. The hurricane center says Michael will be the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall on the Florida Panhandle. (AP Photo/Brendan Farrington)

The St. Marks River overflows into the city of St. Marks, Fla., ahead of Hurricane Michael, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. The hurricane center says Michael will be the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall on the Florida Panhandle. (AP Photo/Brendan Farrington)

Supercharged hurricane threatens Florida with 150 mph winds

he storm appeared to be so powerful that it is expected to remain a hurricane as it moves over Georgia early Thursday

Gaining fury with every passing hour, Hurricane Michael closed in Wednesday on the Florida Panhandle with potentially catastrophic winds of 150 mph, the most powerful storm on record ever to menace the stretch of fishing towns, military bases and spring-break beaches.

With more than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast warned to evacuate, the hurricane’s leading edge began lashing the white-sand shoreline with strong winds, rain and rising seas before daybreak, hours before Michael’s centre was expected to blow ashore.

“I really fear for what things are going to look like there tomorrow at this time,” Colorado State University hurricane expert Phil Klotzbach said in an email.

The supercharged brute quickly sprang from a weekend tropical depression, becoming a furious Category 4 early Wednesday as it drew energy from the Gulf of Mexico’s unseasonably warm, 84-degree waters. Less than a day earlier, Michael was a Category 2.

“The time to evacuate has come and gone … SEEK REFUGE IMMEDIATELY,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott tweeted, while the sheriff in Panama City’s Bay County issued a shelter-in-place order before dawn.

READ MORE: Hurricane Michael roars towards Florida coast on northern course

Diane Farris, 57, and her son walked to a high school-turned-shelter near their home in Panama City to find about 1,100 people crammed into a space meant for about half as many. Neither she nor her son had any way to communicate because their lone cellphone got wet and quit working.

“I’m worried about my daughter and grandbaby. I don’t know where they are. You know, that’s hard,” she said, choking back tears.

As of 11:30 a.m. EDT, Michael was centred about 50 miles (80 kilometres) south of Panama City, its winds at 150 mph (240 kmh). It was moving at 14 mph (22 kph). Hurricane-force winds extended up to 45 miles (75 kilometres) from its centre.

Rainfall could reach up to a foot (30 centimetres), and the life-threatening storm surge could swell to 14 feet (4 metres).

The storm appeared to be so powerful that it is expected to remain a hurricane as it moves over Georgia early Thursday. Forecasters said it will unleash damaging wind and rain all the way into the Carolinas, which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence’s epic flooding.

Meteorologists watched satellite imagery in awe as the storm grew in intensity.

“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.”

With Election Day less than a month away, the crisis was seen as a test of leadership for Scott, a Republican running for the Senate, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for governor. Just as Northern politicians are judged on how they handle snowstorms, their Southern counterparts are watched closely for how they deal with hurricanes.

Hours ahead of landfall, seawater was already lapping over the docks at Massalina Bayou near downtown Panama City, and knee-deep water was rising against buildings in St. Marks, which sits on an inlet south of Tallahassee, Florida’s capital.

Huge waves pounded the white sands of Panama City Beach, shooting frothy water all the way to the base of wooden stairs that lead to the beach.

More than 5,000 evacuees sought shelter in Tallahassee, which is about 25 miles from the coast but is covered by live oak and pine trees that can fall and cause power outages even in smaller storms.

Only a skeleton staff remained at Tyndall Air Force Base, situated on a peninsula just south of Panama City. The home of the 325th Fighter Wing and some 600 military families appeared squarely targeted for the worst of the storm’s fury, and leaders declared HURCON 1 status, ordering out all but essential personnel.

The base’s aircraft, which include F-22 Raptors, were flown hundreds of miles away as a precaution. Forecasters predicted 9 to 14 feet of water at Tyndall.

Evacuations spanned 22 counties from the Panhandle into north-central Florida. But civilians don’t have to follow orders, and authorities feared that many people ignored the warnings to get out.

“We’ve told those who stayed to have their life jackets on when the storm comes,” Tress Dameron, Franklin County emergency management co-ordinator, told The News Herald in Panama City.

In St. Marks, John Hargan and his family gathered up their pets and moved to a raised building constructed to withstand a Category 5 after water from the St. Marks River began surrounding their home.

Hargan’s 11-year-old son, Jayden, carried one of the family’s dogs in a laundry basket in one arm and held a skateboard in the other as he waded through calf-high water.

Hargan, a bartender at a riverfront restaurant, feared he would lose his home and his job to the storm.

“We basically just walked away from everything and said goodbye to it,” he said, tears welling up. “I’m freakin’ scared I’m going to lose everything I own, man.”

Associated Press writers Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Fla.; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Brendan Farrington in St. Marks, Fla.; Russ Bynum in Keaton Beach, Fla.; Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, North Carolina; and Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Md., contributed to this story.

Jay Reeves And Brendan Farrington, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

 

Supercharged hurricane threatens Florida with 150 mph winds

Supercharged hurricane threatens Florida with 150 mph winds

Supercharged hurricane threatens Florida with 150 mph winds

Just Posted

(Contributed)
Collision slows rush hour traffic in Kelowna

Expect delays at K.L.O. Road and Richter Street on your commute Tuesday evening

A conceptual render of the proposed building at 955 Manhattan Drive. (Contributed)
Height not wanted on Kelowna’s Manhattan Drive

City staff said proposed five-storey building poses challenges

A for sale sign is shown in by new homes in Beckwith, Ont., just outside Ottawa, on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Thompson-Okanagan population grew despite COVID-19: report

The Chartered Professional Accountants of BC said there are 8,462 new residents in the region

Kelowna General Hospital. (File photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna General Hospital declared over

Three people tested positive for the virus — two patients and one staff — one of whom died

A crash at the intersection of Harvey Avenue and Leckie Road on June 15. (Amandalina Letterio/Capital News)
Traffic stalled by Harvey Avenue crash in Kelowna

One lane is open as crews clean up after crash at Harvey Avenue and Leckie Road

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

Vernon-Monashee NDP MLA Harwinder Sandhu supported a motion in the B.C. legislature for Canada to create a national Indigenous History month Monday, June 13, 2021. (Contributed)
Canada needs a national Indigenous History Month, Vernon MLA agrees

Harwinder Sandhu supports motion to recognize June as month to advance reconciliation efforts with First Nations

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(Facebook)
New trial date set for Penticton beach attacker’s triple assault charges

May trial was delayed after Crown witnesses failed to show up

Orange ribbons are tied to the fence outside Vernon’s Gateway Homeless Shelter on 33rd Street. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
POLL: Low-key Canada Day in the works for Vernon

Councillor calling for Indigenous recognition for 2022

A conceptual design of Vernon’s new Active Living Centre, which will go to referendum Oct. 15, 2022. (Rendering)
Active living centre 2022 referendum planned in Vernon

City hoping to get Coldstream and Areas B and C back on board

Closure of the 2900 block of 30th Avenue will allow restaurants and other businesses to extend their patios onto the street. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Green light given to downtown Vernon road closure

Single block of 30th Avenue to close over summer months to boost business

Graduating Grade 12 student Savannah Lamb has been awarded an approximate $40,000 scholarship from the Beedie Luminaries foundation. (Contributed)
Dedicated Salmon Arm student earns scholarship to pursue post-secondary education

Savannah Lamb is graduating from Salmon Arm Secondary with a $40,000 scholarship

Most Read