Hurricane Michael roared ashore Wednesday near the Florida Panhandle, one of the most intense hurricanes to ever hit the United States. With winds as high as 155 mph, the Category 4 storm slammed coastal towns in the area, leveling buildings and structures, flooding streets and leaving a trail of destruction. One veteran storm chaser said that Panama City was so badly damaged it looked like it had been struck by a bomb.
The storm had moved toward Georgia and Alabama by the evening, the first Category 3 hurricane to hit Georgia since 1898. Though its strength had decreased, the risk of damage from high winds and heavy rains remained across wide swaths of the Southeast.
10:35 p.m. Stunning visuals from Florida
Before the sun went down and the skies turned midnight blue, those in the path of Hurricane Michael shared glimpses of what some say is the worst hurricane damage they’ve seen. “We’re kind of getting crushed,” Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith said to The Washington Post. “It’s horrific.”
Here are three photos that capture the awe such a powerful storm brings.
— Keith McMillan
10:05 p.m. Storm chasers say they are shocked by the damage
Images of the destruction in coastal Florida towns circulated widely Wednesday night, shocking even seasoned storm chasers and weather watchers. Smith, the sheriff of Franklin County, a coastal patch south of Tallahassee, told CNN that the county was nearly isolated after most of the main roads were rendered impassable from flooding and downed trees.
“It’s bad,” he said. “We’ve been through hurricanes but never where we were completely cut off like this.”
Linda Albrecht, a councilwoman in Mexico Beach, spoke to the network about leaving her home with only a few essential objects.
“It feels like a nightmare,” she said.“Looking at the pictures, I’m thinking there is not a house left in that town.”
— Eli Rosenberg
8:16 p.m.: Local TV station is knocked off the air, but continues reporting
The storm knocked the broadcast of Panama City-based WMBB off the air after the television station lost power, one of more than 263,000 customers experiencing blackouts in Florida. But that didn’t stop the journalists from getting the report out.
Reporter Peyton LoCicero went on Periscope, an app that allows people to live stream to a public audience from a cellphone, to give updates about the storm. She spoke from the parking lot of a wrecked gas station in Walton County, tilting the camera to show the damage around her. The station’s awning had crashed to the ground.
“I wanted to let you guys know exactly what is going on,” she said, speaking about a curfew that had been instituted in nearby Bay County because of concerns about looting from the outages.
More than 17,000 people tuned into the broadcast, including Sen. Marco Rubio, who shared LoCicero’s impromptu report on Twitter.
— Eli Rosenberg
7:55 p.m.: Storm’s first confirmed fatality
The Gadsden County Sheriff’s office said that a man was found dead in his home in a small town outside of Tallahassee after a tree crashed through the roof. Sgt. Angela Hightower did not identify the man but said he had been found at the home in Greensboro around 6 p.m.
— Eli Rosenberg
7:01 p.m.: The storm begins moving through Georgia, sending tornado warnings through at least three counties
The eye of Hurricane Michael began to move through southwest Georgia on Wednesday evening — the first major hurricane to reach the state since the 19th century, according to local reports.
Winds gusts of around 60 mph were reported in towns near the Georgia-Alabama border, according to the National Weather Service. A dangerous storm surge continued along the coastal Florida Panhandle; a National Ocean Service station in Apalachicola was reporting 5 feet of water above the ground level.
And tornado warnings radiated out into counties near the hurricane’s path in Georgia on Tuesday evening, after reports of at least two that had formed in Florida. Officials issued brief tornado warnings for Fulton, Douglas and Cobb counties. More than 40,000 people lost power across the state.
— Eli Rosenberg
6:40 p.m.: Trump spoke to reporters before a rally in Pennsylvania. The White House said he will visit the disaster area next week.
ERIE, Pa. — deputy White House press secretary Lindsay Walters told reporters on Air Force One that President Trump was planning a visit to the affected area early next week. She also said that Trump spoke with Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) during the flight.
Trump had lambasted President Obama on Twitter for holding a campaign rally a week after Hurricane Sandy — the day before the 2012 presidential election. In actuality, both Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney, had suspended their campaigns for days.
But Trump defended himself Wednesday after the plane landed in Erie when asked by reporters if he thought it was appropriate to hold a political rally during the massive storm.
“We have thousands of people lined up, so we wanted to make this stop,” Trump said.“It would be very unfair [to cancel]. You have thousands of people who started coming last night. So we’re going to do that and we have a lot of happy people. In the meantime, we have it very well covered in Florida – from the White House and from here, from what’s on the plane and we’ll be back very shortly.”
— Robert Costa and Felicia Sonmez
6:20 p.m.: Search-and-rescue operations begin in Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Even as 60 mile-per-hour wind gusts and rain whip through Tallahassee, search-and-rescue teams are being deployed, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) said at an evening news briefing.
“We’re turning 100 percent of our focus on search and rescue and recovery,” he said.
Teams from around the state are being deployed to the Panhandle, where the storm had its biggest impact. Scott said he’s gotten reports of “significant” damage at Tyndall Air Force Base as well as in Panama City, Mexico Beach and the rest of the county. Two “devastating tornadoes” touched down in Gadsden County outside of Tallahassee, he said.
“We are deploying a massive wave of responses by land, air and sea,” he said. About 192,000 residents and businesses are without power in the state.
Some correctional facilities in the storm’s path suffered damage, primarily to their roofs, he said.
— Patricia Sullivan
5:50 p.m.: Panama City hospital says it was damaged but patients safely moved
Bay Medical Sacred Heart, a hospital just a stone’s throw from the bays at Panama City, reported Wednesday that it had sustained serious damage during the storm: Blown-out windows, a cracked exterior wall and damage to its roof.
But the hospital also reported good news: Its patients were moved to safer areas in the hospital, which has 323 beds.
“Our generators are working and our patients have been migrated to safe areas of the hospital as we further assess the damage,” the hospital said in a statement posted on Facebook. “Our patients are continuing to receive medical care and lunch was served to all patients.”
Hurricane Michael made landfall not far from Panama City, and the storm appeared to have delivered a particularly powerful blow to the region.
— Mark Berman
5:39 p.m.: A relieved Pensacola “dodged a bullet”
PENSACOLA — This city experienced little impact from the storm, leaving residents surprised and grateful, saying they “dodged a bullet.”
Some streets on the Pensacola Bay side experienced light flooding, but though the winds were gusty at times, there was little rain and few power outages. By Wednesday afternoon, skies had cleared, leaving many left trying to find something to do in a town where most stores and restaurants closed.
Many, like Milton, Fla., residents Chuck and Jody Zink, ended up at Pensacola Beach Pier, shooting videos of the waves, which had mostly subsided. The Zinks moved to Florida from Indiana three years ago and say they have been fortunate to have never experienced a significant hurricane in that time period.
“We’ve lived through snow, ice storms, tornadoes, we’ve been very lucky here though,” Jody Zink said.
Their friends were also lucky. They all lived on high ground on the outskirts of the storm path. One friend had a beach house in Panama City — an area near where the powerful storm made landfall — but sold it last year.
“I know he’s glad now,” Chuck Zink said. Like many here in Pensacola, the Zinks’ only concern now is for their neighbors to the east in Panama City and other hard-hit areas. Watching the news footage has been sobering for many. “We feel so sorry for them,” Jody Zink said. “We’re sending prayers and positive vibes their way. It’s just devastating.”
— Carmen K. Sisson
5:20 p.m.: Michael approaches borders of Alabama, Georgia
Hurricane Michael’s eye is almost done sweeping across Florida and is approaching the borders with Alabama and Georgia, the National Hurricane Center said in an update late Wednesday afternoon.
This bulletin from the hurricane center had some good news: The storm has weakened since crossing onto land, dropping to a Category 3 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale, which measures wind speed. Its maximum sustained winds have declined as it moved steadily north.
There was still bad news, of course. Even as the storm’s eye appeared ready to leave Florida, its massive, sweeping bands stretched out across much of Alabama and Georgia, along with storm-battered parts of the Florida Panhandle.
Hurricane warnings still stretched across parts of Florida, Alabama and Georgia late Wednesday afternoon, with tropical storm warnings also in place from those states into the Carolinas.
“Michael will continue to produce life-threatening hurricane-force winds well inland across portions of the Florida Panhandle, southeast Alabama and southwestern Georgia this evening as the core of the hurricane continues to move inland,” the hurricane center reported.
The storm could also produce heavy rainfall and cause flash flooding in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas and even southeast Virginia, the center said.
— Mark Berman
5:15 p.m.: Preparing for Michael’s arrival
In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) declared a second statewide state of emergency in as many months as hurricane-weary residents prepared for another round of heavy rain and high winds.
Cooper said at a news conference Wednesday that while the state would be spared the full wrath of the storm, it could still do damage, especially in areas still reeling from Hurricane Florence, places where housing repairs are in early stages.
“I’ve seen a lot of blue tarps as I’ve traveled across the state,” Cooper said. “These tropical storm force winds could cause a lot of problems.”
The only good news, he said, is that unlike Florence, Hurricane Michael should move through the state in less than a day. North Carolina Emergency Management Director Michael Sprayberry said the state still has 11 shelters open and will consider reopening others depending on how the storm moves through.
— Kirk Ross
4:55 p.m.: More than 190,000 power outages in Florida
The number of power outages in Florida topped 192,000 as of 4:35 p.m. on Wednesday, state officials said, a number that surged after Hurricane Michael spent most of the day battering the state with rain and wind.
The largest share of outages was seen in the coastal areas where Michael brought punishing conditions even before making landfall. In Bay County — home to Mexico Beach and Panama City, both not far from where Michael made landfall — 88 percent of the county had lost power at that time. Nearby Liberty County had 81 percent of accounts without power, the state reported.
These numbers were likely to rise across the county, as Hurricane Michael was still moving inland through the Panhandle on Wednesday and will keep thrashing the state for hours to come.
— Mark Berman
4:45 p.m.: The storm “didn’t give anyone time to do much”
The sudden intensification of Hurricane Michael was extraordinary and affected how people reacted to the storm, Brad Kieserman, vice president for disaster operations and logistics for American Red Cross, said in a teleconference Wednesday organized by FEMA.
“This storm went from a tropical storm to a projected Cat 3 at landfall in six hours yesterday,” he said. “It’s not behaving normally. It intensified extremely quickly. It didn’t give anyone time to do much. And the one thing you can’t get back in a disaster is time.”
More than 300,000 people live in evacuation zones along or near the coast, and as of Tuesday night 6,000 people were in 80 emergency shelters, Kieserman said. He predicted that the number of people seeking shelter will rise to 20,000 or greater as people flee flooded and damaged coastal homes.
Federal officials warned residents in the storm zone against venturing out after the worst of the storm passes, because hazards remain. The storm weakened when it hit land but retained hurricane-force winds.
“Michael’s still a strong, powerful hurricane, well inland. It’s going to have hurricane impacts well into Georgia,” said Jeff Byard, FEMA’s associate administrator for response and recovery. He said FEMA is well-positioned to handle the back-to-back hurricanes – Florence and now Michael – in part because both are in the same region and emergency responders are well acquainted with each other at this point.
“We’ll be handle to another storm if it hits next week,” Byard said, adding that the hopes that’s not a jinx.
— Joel Achenbach
4:15 p.m.: Alabama governor closes state offices in more than a dozen counties
With Hurricane Michael moving through Florida, other states also readied themselves for the storm’s arrival — and had begun to feel the storm’s impact. In Alabama, the storm’s bands were whipping the central part of the state and are expected to continue through Wednesday evening.
Gov. Kay Ivey (R) on Wednesday ordered state offices and buildings in more than a dozen counties to close due to the ongoing state of emergency. Nearly 3,000 customers had lost power, emergency officials said, a number that could go up as Michael keeps lashing the state.
— Mark Berman
3:05 p.m.: Storm rumbles inland, creates “dangerous storm surge”
Hurricane Michael continued to rumble inland across the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday afternoon and was east of Panama City, the National Hurricane Center said in its most recent update.
“Dangerous storm surge continues along the coast of the Florida Panhandle,” the center said, with a station in Apalachicola registering more than 7.7 feet of inundation. Wind gusts were still battering the area, with some reported as high as 119 mph in the region.
The storm’s impact was felt far and wide across the region, with some areas still awaiting the storm’s bands. Nearly 30,000 people were without power in Florida by midday, officials said, a number that was expected to keep climbing. Bridges were shuttered, roads closed and water levels rising.
— Mark Berman
1:42 p.m.: Hurricane Michael makes landfall in the Florida Panhandle
Hurricane Michael made landfall on Wednesday afternoon, just northwest of Mexico Beach, Fla., coming ashore not far from Panama City as “an extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The most devastating conditions were occurring in the eyewall across the Florida Panhandle’s coastline on Wednesday, but severe hurricane impacts are expected to extend inland as Michael keeps moving north.
— Mark Berman
1:20 p.m.: Travelers brace for impact from hurricane
The arrival of Hurricane Michael means a familiar situation for travelers: Lots and lots of canceled flights. Head here for a rundown from The Post’s Lori Aratani.
— Mark Berman
1 p.m.: Trump may visit Southeast next week to survey damage
President Trump said he may head to the Southeast next week to survey hurricane damage, possibly on Sunday or Monday.
Trump spoke in the Oval Office alongside FEMA chief William “Brock” Long, hours before a scheduled rally the president has planned in Pennsylvania later Wednesday night. Trump said he will “probably” still go to the rally.
“It’s like a big tornado, a massive tornado,” Trump said of the storm, which he said “grew into a monster.”
— Mark Berman
12:40 p.m.: Conditions worsening around northwestern Florida
Even with the eye of Hurricane Michael still off the Florida coast, the storm’s impact on the ground was getting stronger by the hour across the area.
The National Weather Service reported a wind gust of 87 mph in Apalachicola, the highest measured there, shortly after noon. And throughout the region, as the rain and wind both picked up, people began reporting damage and worsening conditions.
— Mark Berman
12:25 p.m.: South Carolina, reeling from Florence, in a state of emergency
Five states have declared states of emergency due to Hurricane Michael: Florida, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, all of which declared emergencies in some or all of their counties. In his order, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) noted that his state is still dealing with floodwaters left behind by Hurricane Florence, which tore through the Carolinas last month. McMaster said that given the lingering floodwaters, the looming storm poses “a significant threat” to South Carolina.
— Mark Berman
12:03 p.m.: National Weather Service warns of “EXTREMELY DANGEROUS” storm
Approaching midday Wednesday, forecasters issued blunt warnings about Hurricane Michael: It is already hitting Florida, and it is only getting stronger.
In a bulletin late Wednesday morning, the National Hurricane Center said the storm’s maximum sustained winds had increased to nearly 150 mph with some stronger gusts. Water levels were rising along the Florida Panhandle, with more than 5 feet of inundation reported at a water level station in Apalachicola.
The National Weather Service in Tallahassee, Florida’s capital, issued an “extreme wind warning” for parts of Gulf, Bay and Franklin counties in northwestern part of the state. The three counties, which stretch along the Panhandle from the area around Panama City to an area south of Tallahassee, are already feeling the impact from Hurricane Michael’s lashing rain and wind. The extreme wind warning is in effect until 2:15 p.m., the alert said.
The Weather Service said that radar suggests winds topping 130 mph were moving ashore, and it included in its warning late Wednesday morning a blunt and all-caps message: “THIS IS AN EXTREMELY DANGEROUS AND LIFE-THREATENING SITUATION!”
Head to the Capital Weather Gang on more about what the rare “extreme wind warning” means.
— Mark Berman
11:45 a.m.: A quiet capital city
TALLAHASSEE — Rain has been steadily increasing all morning, with more frequent downpours coming as Hurricane Michael inches closer.
Few motorists were seen on the streets of Florida’s capital city, and virtually no businesses are open. Tallahassee’s abundant live oaks, which line many residential streets, remain in good condition before noon, but residents warn they are vulnerable to high winds once the soil becomes soaked.
In a semirural Chaires community, houses were boarded up and horses sheltered in barns and beneath trees in the steady rain.
— Patricia Sullivan
11:30 a.m.: First responders begin hunkering down until the storm passes
PANAMA CITY, Fla. — As tropical storm conditions spread across the Florida Panhandle this morning, bridges began to close throughout the region and emergency response services were slowed and halted.
First responders were urging residents to stay put and ride out the storm as winds peaked above 50 mph in some portions of the region and Hurricane Michael continued to move up toward Bay County.
“We just urge everyone to hunker down and ride it out. It’s going to be pretty intense,” Brad Monroe, deputy chief of emergency services in Bay County said during a morning briefing from the county’s emergency operations center. “We are beginning to see the outer edge of the high speed winds … Anyone that is sheltered in place needs to stay there.”
He said preparations are being made for post-storm recovery efforts, but as of Wednesday morning the condition were already too dangerous for emergency personnel to be out.
“First responders are ready to go as soon as conditions allow,” an emotional Monroe said during the morning briefing. “It’s just simply too dangerous to send our people out.”
Heavy rains were already inundating parts of the region, and flooding was already reported in waterfront areas.
— Luz Lazo
11:03 a.m.: North Carolina governor declares emergency
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) declared an emergency in his state ahead of the expected arrival of Hurricane Michael.
Cooper’s announcement came after emergencies were declared in Florida, Alabama and Georgia as Michael, a powerful Category 4 storm, churned closer to the Southeast. Cooper said 150 National Guard troops would report on Wednesday afternoon and warned that the heaviest rains were expected in his state on Thursday.
Michael is expected to make landfall in northwest Florida before moving north, and forecasters warn it could bring punishing rain and wind with it into to Georgia and then the Carolinas, which are still recovering from the deadly flooding brought on by hurricane Florence last month.
— Mark Berman
10:25 a.m. update: What Hurricane Michael looks like from space
9:42 a.m.: “Hurricane Michael is a hurricane of the worst kind”
Federal officials said they are in position and prepared to help the Southeast respond to Hurricane Michael, which they described as a particularly dangerous system.
“Unfortunately, Hurricane Michael is a hurricane of the worst kind,” FEMA Administrator William “Brock” Long said at a news briefing Wednesday morning.
Long was grim in discussing the potential impact from Michael, which intensified Tuesday and Wednesday into a Category 4 hurricane, a major storm with the potential to wreak havoc.
“Major hurricanes cause large losses of life and the most amount of destruction that hurricanes can bring forward,” he said.
Hurricane Michael has already begun lashing northwestern Florida, and Long warned about the “devastating storm surge” that would likely push through that region along with punishing winds.
Long also extended his warning to other parts of the Southeast, saying this could be the worst storm to hit southwest and central Georgia in “many, many decades — and maybe ever. “The citizens in Georgia need to wake up and pay attention,” he said. Beyond that, Long said, the storm could bring unwelcome rainfall to parts of the Carolinas still recovering from the deadly flooding.
“It’s going to be a major hit,” Long said of the storm’s expected impact across the region.
— Mark Berman
9:10 a.m.: Florida governor: “Now is the time to seek refuge”
With Hurricane Michael’s outer bands already lashing northwest Florida, Gov. Rick Scott (R) on Wednesday urged anyone in the storm’s path to seek shelter before the most damaging weather arrived.
“This is the worst storm that our Florida Panhandle has seen in a century,” he said at a news briefing. “Hurricane Michael is upon us and now is the time to seek refuge.”
Hurricane Michael had swelled to “an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane” on Wednesday morning, the National Hurricane Center said, and its wind bands were already scraping across parts of Florida. Forecasters have warned about a potentially devastating storm surge, along with punishing winds and rains that could tear through the region on Wednesday and Thursday.
Scott warned about the “unimaginable devastation” that could spread across the coastal regions, warning residents to take the storm’s destructive capabilities seriously.
“It’s going to be horrible,” he said.
He said more than 3,500 Florida National Guard members had been activated, along with waves of other first responders and officials preparing to respond to both the storm and its aftermath.
Residents and officials alike have said they were surprised by how quickly the storm came together, particularly compared to the much slower approach of recent hurricanes like Irma last year and Florence last month in the Carolinas. “This thing happened fast,” Scott said.
— Mark Berman
8:55 a.m.: Fears of storm surge, heavy rain and powerful wind
Hurricane Michael’s approach continued early Wednesday as it trundled north toward the northwestern Florida, a region largely shut down by evacuation orders, storm warnings and fears of what the system could bring.
The National Hurricane Center warned that the storm could bring a devastating level of storm surge, the swell of water pushed by a system’s winds. Hurricane Michael was “an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane” on Wednesday morning, with maximum sustained winds up to nearly 145 mph and some gusts higher, the hurricane center said in a bulletin.
Its strongest winds extended up to 45 miles from the center, and some parts of Florida were already feeling its impact. Apalachicola Regional Airport recorded a wind gust of 56 mph, the center said.
The storm surge could push as high as 14 feet in some areas, the hurricane center said, but even several feet of storm surge could be damaging or devastating to homes and some areas. The hurricane center also warned that the storm’s conditions would “spread well inland across portions of the Florida Panhandle, southeastern Alabama and southwestern Georgia later today and tonight,” threatening a wide swath of the Southeast.
See the latest forecast over at the Capital Weather Gang.
— Mark Berman
8:45 a.m.: Quiet in Panama City
PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Early Wednesday, Panama City Beach was desolate. The tourists had cut their vacations short. Most hotels had evacuated. The restaurants and shops all across the waterfront community were closed.
But not everyone was gone. Some residents of this popular beach town in northwest Florida, were staying put, ignoring the pleas from officials to evacuate and dismissing the threat of an approaching Category 4 storm. At Buster’s Beer & Bait, one of the last bars still open Tuesday night, the locals had one spirited gathering recounting stories from past hurricanes and planning how they would use their boats, kayaks and canoes to help with any search and rescue efforts. They took turns to singing the wood covering the bar’s windows already marked with “Rock Me Hurricane 2018.”
“Welcome to the Hurricane party,” some said when new customers entered the bar. Across the way, the waves grew higher and louder. By morning, rain was steady and winds were picking up. Tyler and Heather Butler said they didn’t realize the storm would be serious until Monday, and decided to hunker down at their Georgette Street home, just two miles from the beach. Their neighbors were also staying, they said.
“There won’t be any power, no WiFi. We will play board games. We will be able to get time together,” said Tyler Butler, 33. “It will be a good lesson for the kids to be appreciative of the things they have — power, water, air conditioning. In a couple of days they will look back and say, ‘we made it through.’ It will be a bonding time.”
— Luz Lazo