MIAMI – Hurricane Michael, one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the continental US, lashed the northwestern Florida coastal region on Wednesday, downing trees, damaging homes, causing flooding and power blackouts and cutting roadways.
In a special 7:00 pm bulletin on Wednesday evening, the NHC said that the storm’s maximum sustained winds had dropped to 100 mph (155 km/h) as it moves north-northeast at 13 mph.
More than five hours after Michael’s “huge” eye made landfall at Mexico Beach with winds of up to 155 miles (250 kilometers) per hour, there have been no reports of injuries or deaths and authorities have not yet had a chance to make a preliminary evaluation of the damage.
However, images recorded on mobile phones speak eloquently of the effects of the storm on the little town of just over 1,000 residents which found itself in the crosshairs of the powerful hurricane.
The storm surge and torrential rain brought by Michael flooded local streets and single-family homes, which were also battered by the high winds, some of them losing their roofs, doors, windows, awnings and other features.
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said that Michael could bring a storm surge of up to 14 feet to coastal areas along with “catastrophic winds,” for hours after it made landfall.
The NHC said that Michael was the third-most-intense storm to make landfall in the US in recent history with an atmospheric pressure measured at 919 millibars, a level exceeded only by the 1935 Labor Day hurricane at 892 millibars and Hurricane Camille’s 900 millibars in 1969.
President Donald Trump met with top emergency management officials on Wednesday and publicly sent his prayers to the people in Michael’s path, saying early in the day that he had not decided whether to cancel a political rally and fundraiser in Erie, Pennsylvania, to monitor the storm from the White House, given that it is – he said – “one of the biggest storms ever to hit our country.”
Ultimately, however, he said he felt like he could not “disappoint” those who had turned out for the rally and were standing in line at the venue, tweeting “I cannot disappoint the thousands of people that are there – and the thousands that are going. I look forward to seeing everyone this evening.”
He also said that he intends to visit some of the areas affected by the storm in the coming days, possibly next Sunday or Monday.
The storm lessened in strength somewhat as it moved over land, with sustained winds dropping to 115 mph (185 km/h), although still packing more intense gusts, according to a special NHC bulletin earlier on Wednesday afternoon.
More than 3.7 million people live within Michael’s projected track through Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina and Virginia, where it is expected to bring heavy rain on Thursday and Friday, although by then it will presumably have weakened to a tropical storm.
Meanwhile, more than 30,000 homes and businesses in northwest Florida were without electricity, according to Duke Energy, which estimated that up to 200,000 people could be without power along Michael’s path in the coming hours and days.
Early in the day, Florida Gov. Rick Scott promised that as soon as Michael passed through the area there would be a “massive” response to support the Panhandle, with more than 1,000 search and rescue personnel and 3,500 members of the Florida National Guard deployed to aid local residents.