AT LEAST two people are dead – including one child – after record-breaking Hurricane Michael slammed into Florida with devastating 155mph winds.
A man was crushed to death by a falling tree and a tot killed in Georgia after being struck by debris during the “hell” storm.
Michael caused a 14ft high storm surge which has submerged homes. It has now been degraded to a tropical storm – but not before tearing through homes and ripping roofs off buildings.
National Hurricane Center meteorologist Dennis Feltgen said: “We are in new territory. The historical record, going back to 1851, finds no Category 4 hurricane ever hitting the Florida panhandle.”
Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach, a tourist town along the Panhandle, a 200-mile stretch of white-sand beach resorts, fishing towns and military bases.
The hurricane swamped streets, snapped trees like twigs and sent building debris flying across the beachfront.
Hurricane Michael what we know:
- The ‘hell’ storm slammed into Florida with devastating 155mph winds
- Two people were killed including a young girl hit with flying debris
- Nearly 500,000 homes are now without power in the region
- It caused a 14ft high storm surge which has submerged homes
- 320,000 people disregarded mandatory or voluntary evacuation notices
- It has now been degraded to a tropical storm after mauling Florida
Officials said nearly 500,000 homes were without power across Alabama, Georgia and Florida as a result of the hurricane.
Local officials have since revealed a Florida Panhandle man was killed by a falling tree as Michael tore through the state.
Timothy Thomas, from Panama City Beach, Florida, told reporters “we are catching some hell” as he rode out the storm at home with his wife.
The tree crashed through the roof of his Greenboro home and trapped him inside, according to the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office.
Emergency crews were heading to the home, but downed power lines and blocked roads were making the trip difficult.
Officials have yet to reveal the man’s name or whether anyone else has been hurt or killed in the storm.
“The window to evacuate has come to a close,” said Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Brock Long.
It began unexpectedly from a weekend tropical depression, becoming a furious Category 4 by early Wednesday, up from a Category 2 less than a day earlier.
The storm came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane before it was downgraded to Category 3. By 8pm it was down to a Category 1.
Donald Trump tweeted: “Florida Highway Patrol Troopers are all en route to the Panhandle, from all across the state of Florida – to help those affected.”
He included a video of cop cars rushing to the scenes of devastation.
The storm has the potential to drive sea water levels as high as 14ft above normal in some areas, the National Hurricane Center said.
Brad Kieserman of the American Red Cross said as many as 320,000 people on Florida’s Gulf Coast had disregarded mandatory or voluntary evacuation notices.
An estimated 6,000 evacuees took cover in emergency shelters, most of them in Florida, and that number was expected to rise to 20,000 across five states by week’s end.
Reuters news agency reported that Michael is the third most powerful storm ever to make landfall in the mainland US. And experts said it is the biggest on record to strike by Florida Panhandle.
News footage showed floodwaters up to the roofs of many homes in Mexico Beach. The fate of about 280 residents who authorities said defied evacuation orders was unknown.
It struck hours after Florida governor Rick Scott warned locals it was “too late” to flee and he was “scared to death” people had ignored evacuation orders.
He said he hoped no one kept children with them as they chose to ride it out, but the time to evacuate the “target zone” had “come and gone”.
“This is the worst storm that our Florida Panhandle has seen in a century,” said Governor Scott. “Hurricane Michael is upon us, and now is the time to seek refuge.”
“If you chose not to evacuate … you’re not going to be able to get out. This thing is coming now. It’s too late to get on the road,” he told CNN.
Scott revealed communities across the Florida panhandle will see “unimaginable devastation,” adding roof-shredding winds could easily top 150 mph.
Horror storm surges are also predicted leading to terrifying 31 ft high waves and devastating flash flooding.
About 3.8 million people are under hurricane warnings in Florida’s Panhandle and Big Bend regions, along with parts of southeastern Alabama and southern Georgia.
Tropical storm warnings cover 15.9 million people in several states.
The National Hurricane Centre described the hurricane – which has wind gusts near its centre topping 165 mph – as “extremely dangerous.”
One meteorologist described the weather front as a monster as an apparition of a skull was spotted at the heart of Hurricane Michael in satellite images.
Only three major hurricanes Category 3 or higher have struck the Panhandle since 1950: Eloise in 1975, Opal in 1995 and Dennis in 2005.
The area is a 200-mile stretch Florida lying between Alabama on the north west, Georgia on the north east and the Gulf of Mexico to the south
The National Weather Service in Tallahassee, Florida, warned: “A potentially catastrophic event is developing. Locations may be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Brock Long says his agency is working “hand-in-hand” Governor Scott.
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He praised Florida’s use on Tuesday evening of the wireless emergency alert system to let residents know that the storm was getting stronger.
As for those who ignored evacuation orders, Long said people “who stick around and experience storm surge unfortunately don’t usually live to tell about it”.
Marco Rubio, a Republican Senator from Florida, said: “Every storm’s different, but this storm is a monstrosity.”
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