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Florida’s panhandle coast is littered with evidence that Hurricane Michael is one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the U.S. Roofs and awnings are peeled from buildings, pieces of homes are scattered amid snapped trees and downed power lines, chunks of beaches are washed away. After landfall in Florida, Michael’s fierce winds and heavy rains thrashed Georgia and headed toward the Carolinas, including areas that got a soaking last month from Hurricane Florence.
BY THE NUMBERS
—Hurricane history: first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in Florida’s Panhandle since record-keeping began in 1851.
— Top winds: 155 mph (250 kph), strong enough to completely destroy homes and cause weekslong power outages.
— Major pressure: 919 millibars minimum pressure in the hurricane’s eye, the third most intense hurricane landfall in the U.S. in recorded history.
— High tides: storm surge of 6 feet (2 meters) up to 14 feet (4 meters) forecast for Florida’s Panhandle and Big Bend.
— Get out: roughly 375,000 people in Florida warned to evacuate. Gov. Rick Scott says search and rescue teams are heading into the state’s hardest-hit areas to help survivors.
— Staying safe: nearly 6,700 people took refuge in 54 shelters in Florida.
— Power outages: 325,775 Florida customers and 271,346 Georgia customers without power.
— Food and water: 1.5 million ready-to-eat meals, 1 million gallons (3.75 million liters) of water and 40,000 10-pound (4.5-kilogram) bags of ice ready for distribution.
— The human cost: At least one death has been reported in Gadsden County, Florida, where authorities say a tree crashed through a home and crushed a man.
IMAGES FROM THE GROUND
Images captured by Associated Press journalists show how Florida residents took shelter while waters were rising ahead of Michael’s landfall.
Michael isn’t the only storm gaining strength in the tropics. The National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Leslie and Tropical Storm Nadine are no threat to land over the open Atlantic Ocean, but Tropical Storm Sergio is expected to hit Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula later this week and threaten the southern U.S. Plains and the Ozarks by the weekend.
AT THE LAST MINUTE
One family in St. Marks, Florida , waited until Wednesday morning to flee Michael’s wrath. They waded through ankle-deep floodwaters, carrying their belongings in laundry baskets after saying goodbye to their home, expecting to lose everything.
LOOKING AT LANDFALL
Associated Press journalists watched Michael roll ashore from hotels in Panama City and Panama City Beach. The winds ripped off hotel awnings, shattered glass doors, blew down fences and stirred up white caps in swimming pools.
The Gulf of Mexico gave Michael exactly what it needed to bulk up into a monster: The water was 4 to 5 degrees F (2.2 to 2.8 degrees C) warmer than normal, and high atmosphere winds that can disrupt a hurricane were quiet. Michael’s wind speed increased by 72 percent in less than 33 hours.
Meteorologists use central pressure readings to gauge a hurricane’s strength — the lower the pressure, the stronger the storm. Michael was more intense at landfall than hurricanes Andrew, Katrina and Maria. Only the 1935 Labor Day hurricane in the Florida Keys and Hurricane Camille in 1969 were stronger.
Michael is shaking up the upcoming election in the battleground state of Florida, and that could benefit Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum , who is the Democratic nominee for governor. The hurricane has given him national exposure less than a month before the Nov. 6 showdown against Republican Ron DeSantis, but the notoriety could backfire if Tallahassee is unable to quickly recover. President Donald Trump has endorsed DeSantis.
A month after Hurricane Florence’s epic deluge, South Carolina officials are more concerned about tornadoes than flooding from Hurricane Michael. South Carolina saw 47 tornadoes in two days in 2004 as Tropical Storm Frances move north from the Florida Panhandle. The National Weather Service issued multiple tornado warnings in Georgia Wednesday as Hurricane Michael pushed through the state, and local media report three of them may have touched down.
SEEK ALTERNATE ROUTES
Amtrak had to change some train schedules to protect passengers and employees from Michael. Silver Star trains from New York to Miami were only running from Miami to Jacksonville. The Palmetto between New York and Savannah, Georgia, is only running between New York and Washington beginning Thursday.