Hurricane Michael continued to batter the Southeast, pummeling states with powerful rain, wind and flooding. Michael, the strongest hurricane on record to hit the area, made landfall Wednesday and continued to charge north, wreaking havoc and prompting emergencies as it moves through the region. Darkness concealed the full extent of the damage so far. A second death was reported early Thursday, apparently caused by debris crashing through a mobile home, killing a child.
3:30 a.m.: Apple CEO, a Gulf Coast native, pledges to help with recovery.
On Wednesday night, Apple CEO Tim Cook pledged that the company would help with recovery and relief efforts. “I grew up on the shores of the Gulf Coast, near Pensacola and Mobile, and that region holds a special place in my heart,” he wrote on Twitter. “That’s never been more true than now.”
Cook grew up in Robertsdale, Ala., a city of roughly 5,200 people located roughly halfway between Mobile and Pensacola, Fla. His father worked at Mobile’s shipyards, and his mother worked at a drugstore.
Though Cook has called himself a “a proud son of the South,” his relationship with the socially conservative community where he grew up is complicated. When Cook came out as gay in 2014, Robertsdale mayor Charles Murphy suggested that he should have kept his sexual orientation private. “Tim has done a good job with Apple. We’re very proud of the accomplishments that he’s made,” he told Reuters. “Sometimes people’s personal lives need to stay personal.”
Visiting Robertsdale in 2016, The Washington Post’s Todd Frankel noted that Cook’s name wasn’t on the town’s welcome signs, the chamber of commerce brochures, or at his old high school. One former classmate speculated that the lack of recognition might be connected to Cook’s advocacy for gay rights.
2:00 a.m.: Officials in Seminole County, Ga. confirm a second storm-related fatality.
High winds from Hurricane Michael lead to the death of an 11-year-old girl in Seminole County, Ga., EMA Director Travis Brooks told The Washington Post early Thursday morning. The girl had been inside a trailer home in an unincorporated area of the county near Lake Seminole, close to the Florida-Georgia border. From what officials could determine, Brooks said, it looked like a metal carport used to store boats had been lifted in the air by the gusting winds and had flipped over. When it landed, its legs crashed through the roof of a neighboring mobile home and hit the girl in the head.
“It looked like a war zone,” Brooks said, adding that it had taken deputies from the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office practically all day to get to the mobile home due to the road conditions in the area. The death is the second known fatality connected with Hurricane Michael, which has since been downgraded to a tropical storm.
1:30 a.m.: Michael weakens to a tropical storm over South-Central Georgia.
After crushing the Florida coast, Hurricane Michael weakened as it passed through south-central Georgia on Wednesday night. By midnight, peak winds had dropped to 70 mph, causing forecasters to reclassify it as a tropical storm. Heavy rainfall is expected to continue drenching Georgia through the early hours of the morning, with a threat of flash flooding overnight.
Meanwhile, the Waffle House near Florida State University’s campus in Tallahassee was open for business at 12:28 a.m., with lines stretching out the door. FEMA officials famously use the Waffle House Index as a way of measuring storm damage: Since the diner chain is ubiquitous in the southeast, and rarely shuts down in extreme weather, seeing the Waffle House closed down before a storm is a sign that things are about to get extremely bad. If the Waffle House hasn’t reopened after the storm, FEMA considers that a sign that the area has experienced major devastation.
On Wednesday morning, a Waffle House spokesman had announced that 30 restaurants in Florida and Georgia were closed in preparation for Hurricane Michael, including locations along the Florida Panhandle from Panama City to Destin. It was a clear warning that the storm should be taken seriously.
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.: First confirmed fatality of the storm
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