Much of Florida Panhandle Is Left in Ruins After Hurricane Michael

PANAMA CITY, Fla. — A vast search-and-rescue operation was underway on Thursday after Hurricane Michael cut a brutal path through the Florida Panhandle, leaving communities in its wake to confront splintered homes, twisted metal and flooding that reached to the rooftops of some homes.
At least two people were killed, and the authorities feared they would find more bodies in the rubble as specialized out-of-town teams, local officials and residents hurriedly searched for trapped survivors and assessed the damage. Another concern was the condition of two hospitals in Panama City, which Gov. Rick Scott said were damaged in the storm.
The storm made landfall near Mexico Beach, Fla., just shy of Category 5 strength on Wednesday afternoon and was not downgraded to a tropical storm until midnight, once it had raced through the Panhandle and southwest Georgia as a hurricane. It was expected to target the Carolinas, still recovering from Hurricane Florence last month, on Thursday.
Here are the latest developments:
• A man died on Wednesday after a tree crashed down on his home in Greensboro, northwest of Tallahassee, the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office said. WMAZ-TV reported that a girl died in Seminole County, in southwestern Georgia, when her home was struck by debris.

• Much of the coast of the Florida Panhandle, including Panama City, Fla., and Mexico Beach, near where the hurricane made landfall, was left in ruins.
• At 8 a.m. on Thursday, Michael was about 40 miles west-northwest of Columbia, S.C., heading northeast with sustained wind speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. The storm is moving relatively quickly, at 21 m.p.h., and is expected to speed up as it crosses into the Carolinas on Thursday and blows out to sea by early Friday. Click on the map below to see the storm’s projected path.

• As of Thursday morning, more than 800,000 customers had lost power in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, according to electrical providers in those states. In some Florida counties, such as Franklin and Leon, nearly every customer was without power.

A storm that was initially forecast to arrive as a tropical storm instead amped up to furious intensity, hitting landfall just after midday Wednesday near the small seaside community of Mexico Beach, 100 miles southwest of Tallahassee, with winds topping 155 miles per hour.
Images from there showed swaths of shattered debris where houses once stood and structures inundated up to their rooftops; the streets of Panama City, farther west, were blocked by downed tree limbs and impossible tangles of power lines. Recreational vehicles, trucks and even trains were pushed over, surrounded by new lakes of water.
The full extent of the damage and other casualties was uncertain: Governor Scott told CNN on Thursday that two hospitals in Panama City were damaged in the storm and were “in the process of being closed down.”
He said that temporary hospitals were being set up to treat people injured in the storm, but that “we don’t know the numbers” of injured yet.
“My biggest concern would be a loss of life,” he said.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said he had heard from local authorities who described the extensive damage. “These are not people prone to hyperbole,” Mr. Rubio said on CNN. “Panama City is catastrophic damage. Someone told me, ‘Mexico Beach is gone.’”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency reported Thursday that four hospitals and 11 nursing facilities were closed in Florida and that one hospital was sheltering in place. One nursing facility in Georgia was also closed.
A nursing home in Panama City suffered damage to the roof of one of its wings, but all the residents were O.K., said Rodney C. Watford, the facility’s administrator. He said that the center, the Clifford Chester Sims State Veterans Nursing Home, was operating off a generator, which was powering air-conditioning to the building.
Residents and emergency workers spent most of Wednesday hunkered down and emerged only toward nightfall to begin assessing the storm’s toll. As dusk approached, though, the early outlines of a vast calamity were unfolding.

“You can’t drive a car anywhere, you can’t do anything because it’s littered with houses, pieces of houses,” said Patricia Mulligan, who rode out the storm with her family in a condo in Mexico Beach, a town of mom-and-pop shops and sport-fishing businesses about 35 miles southeast of Panama City. Outside, she said in a phone interview, she could see remnants of people’s lives strewn about: refrigerators, a beanbag chair, a washing machine, a kayak, and a dresser.
Her brother, she said, lost a condo along the beach, and the other nearby units were also destroyed. “They’re not there,” she said. “It’s gone.”
Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in an interview on CNN on Thursday that he was most concerned about a few areas on the Florida coast, particularly Mexico Beach, the eastern parts of Panama City, Apalachicola and around Tyndall Air Force Base. He said that it appeared that the hospital system in Panama City had suffered major damage.


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