Hurricane Michael causes 'unimaginable destruction' to Florida

Michael Upgraded To Category 4 'Major' Hurricane As It Approaches Florida Panhandle

At least two people were killed as Hurricane Michael, one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the USA, slammed into the state of Florida, unleashing a trail of destruction by flooding beach towns, peeling off roofs and snapping trees before advancing to the Carolinas.

Forecasters say Michael will come ashore over the Florida Panhandle sometime midday Wednesday. Storm surge, with forecasts of up to 14 feet in some areas, remained a major concern. "It will be life-threatening and extremely unsafe". It was moving northeast at 23 miles per hour (37 kph).

Past year saw a string of catastrophic storms batter the western Atlantic - including Irma, Maria and Harvey, which caused a record-equaling $125 billion in damage when it flooded the Houston metropolitan area.

"Today is the day".

A storm surge from Hurricane Michael completely flooded this woman's front yard on St. George Island in Florida.

While Florence took five days between the time it turned into a hurricane and the moment it blew ashore in the Carolinas, Michael gave Florida what could amount to just two days' notice.

Twenty miles (32 km) south of Mexico Beach, floodwaters were more than 7 feet (2.1 meters) deep near Apalachicola, a town of about 2,300 residents, hurricane center chief Ken Graham said.

Authorities said a falling tree killed a man outside Tallahassee, Florida, and an 11-year-old girl in Georgia was killed when the wind picked up a carport and dropped it on her home. As Michael moves inland, southern Georgia and southeastern Alabama can expect damaging winds, too.

Florida officials said Michael, packing winds of 155 miles per hour (250 kilometers per hour), was the most powerful storm to hit the state s northern Panhandle area in more than a century.

President Trump has approved Florida's declaration of emergency.

Based on its internal barometric pressure, Michael was the third most powerful hurricane to hit the USA mainland, behind the unnamed Labor Day storm of 1935 and Camille in 1969. "It looks like another big one".

"We have a massive flow of search and rescue, Highway Patrol, National Guard, utility workers, pushing their way down to these impacted areas", the governor said. NHC said those areas will likely experience a "life-threatening" storm surge, where 9 to 13 feet of inundation is possible in the worst areas between Tyndall Air Force Base and Keaton Beach. But the surging seawater could also create perilous problems far from the coast, raising rivers and bays to unsafe levels as it pushes as much as 10 to 15 miles inland.

"Think about what we've seen before with storms like Hurricane Irma", he said. Where homes once stood, offering premium views of the Gulf of Mexico, a few boards lay scattered across foundations.

With a number of counties ordering evacuations, Scott waived highway tolls in the northwest part of the state.

But the full extent of the damage was only slowly becoming clear, with some of the stricken areas hard to reach because of roads blocked by debris or water.

"Where that becomes a factor is with the evacuation of some of the local populations", he said.

Sheriff Morgan said: "If you decide to stay in your home and a tree falls on your house or the storm surge catches you and you're now calling for help, there's no one that can respond to help you".

More than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast were ordered or urged to evacuate as Michael closed in.

Michael is shaking up the upcoming election in the battleground state of Florida.

On its current track, the core of Michael is expected to move northeastward across the southeastern USA on Wednesday night and Thursday, and then move off the Mid-Atlantic coast away from the United States on Friday.

Florida Fish and Wildlife has put 40 additional law enforcement officers on notice to deploy with a variety of special equipment, including boats that can be used for high-water rescues.

Then, it will "move northeastward across the southeastern United States Wednesday night and Thursday, and move off the Mid-Atlantic coast away from the United States on Friday", the NHC said.

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After it ravaged the Panhandle, Michael entered south Georgia as a Category 3 hurricane - the most powerful in recorded history for that part of the neighboring state. NPR's Emily Sullivan reports state and local governments are preparing for torrential downpours.

"There is unbelievable devastation", Florida Governor Rick Scott said on CNN. FEMA is already on Floridian ground providing assistance in the form of the EPA, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services.

"Water will come miles in shore and could easily rise over the roofs of houses", he said. "You couldn't see anything anywhere".

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