Hurricane Michael in Florida: Beach Towns Left in Ruins; Air Force Base Damaged

Ron Brackett
Published: October 11, 2018

When Hurricane Michael made landfall as a high-end Category 4 storm on the Florida Panhandle Wednesday, buildings along the coast were smashed to pieces, storm-surge flooding lapped at the eaves of beach houses, and an Air Force base sustained extensive damage.

One death has been reported in the Panhandle. A Greensboro man was killed when a tree crashed on his home, Gadsden County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Anglie Hightower told the Associated Press. 

From Panama City, through Mexico Beach — where the storm made landfall — and into Apalachicola, houses were swamped or blown apart, roofs were ripped off, boats sank, and trees toppled in the high winds.

Tyndall Air Force Base, which sits across the bay from Panama City, posted on its Facebook page that the base sustained extensive damage. A wind gust of 129 mph was measured at the base. No injuries were reported. Base personnel had been ordered to evacuate on Monday. The Facebook post said evacuees should plan on being away for an extended time.

The damage extended far inland as well. In Marianna, about 55 miles from Panama City, social media posts showed buildings with collapsed walls and torn off roofs. The police department lost its roof, too. Michael arrived in the city with gusts up to 102 mph.

Officials in Tallahassee, the state capital, tweeted that initial assessments of storm damage were showing lots of downed power lines, power poles, and trees.

As of 10:30 p.m. EDT, more than 331,000 homes and businesses were without power statewide, most of which were in the areas impacted by the storm, according to PowerOutage.us. The total number of customers without power in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia topped 550,000. 

(MORE: Track Hurricane Michael)

More From the Coast

Images from Mexico Beach showed widespread devastation with homes reduced to kindling and roofs lying in the middle of U.S. 98. Storm surge lapped at roof eaves.

Patricia Mulligan was in a condo on Mexico Beach when Michael slammed into the town. “You can’t drive a car anywhere, you can’t do anything because it’s littered with houses, pieces of houses,” Mulligan told the New York Times. She said her brother's condo was destroyed as were other units nearby. “They’re not there. It’s gone,” she said.

Several storm trackers tweeted that they were shocked by the devastation. 

Mark Suddath wrote, "Walking thru Mexico Beach to receive my GoPro cam and I’m telling you, it’s DEVASTATED. Truly devastated. Some buildings completely swept clean - only slabs."

Earlier he had written, "Drove from Panama City almost to Mexico Beach and I can tell you this is the worst damage from wind that I have ever seen! Absolutely catastrophic!"

Josh Morgerman wrote, "It's hard to convey in words the scale of the catastrophe in Panama City. The whole city looks like a nuke was dropped on it. I'm literally shocked at the scale of the destruction."

Tweets from a resident of Panama City showed a bank where the windows were blown out and two middle schools had major roof damage. Drone video showed the roof peeled back from the gymnasium at Jinks Middle School. 

Vance Beu, 29, was staying with his mother at her Panama City apartment when a pine tree stabbed through the roof. Beu told AP the roar of the storm sounded like a jet engine as the winds accelerated. 

"It was terrifying, honestly. There was a lot of noise. We thought the windows were going to break at any time. We had the inside windows kind of barricaded in with mattresses," Beu said.

Kaylee O'Brien was crying as she sorted through the remains of the apartment she shared with three roommates. Four pine trees had crashed through the roof of her apartment, nearly hitting two people. 

Chunks of U.S. 98 in Panama City Beach, Florida, were washed away by the storm surge from Hurricane Michael on Wednesday, October 10, 2018.
(Photo by Charles Ferrell)

Facebook photos showed chunks of U.S. 98 that were washed away by the storm surge.

The walls collapsed at the Pawaday Inn, a pet grooming and boarding business in Panama City. A Miami Herald reporter tweeted that the dogs survived, but a cat drowned after being trapped. 

In Panama City Beach, WJHG-TV employees were told they could evacuate the station if they felt unsafe, but a few remained inside the building, according to reporter Danielle Ellis. The station lost power a few hours later.

The Panama City News Herald lost power and stayed in operation using a backup generator, but did not have internet access at the office, the Associated Press reported.

Bay Medical Sacred Heart in Panama City tweeted that hospital "sustained damage including windows blown out, cracking of an exterior wall, and roof damage." The tweet said emergency generators were working, and patients had been moved to safer areas.

In Port St. Joe, about 12 miles southeast of Mexico Beach, a church lost its steeple and much of its roof, parts of buildings were torn away, and pine trees snapped like matchsticks

Port St. Joe's Mayor Bo Patterson remained in his home seven blocks from the beach during the storm. "It feels like you don't know when the next tree is going to fall on top of you because it's blowing so ferociously," he told Reuters by telephone. "It's very, very scary. We have trees being uprooted, heavy, heavy rain."

Further east, Apalachicola saw a lot of damage too. Sally Crown, who rode out the storm in her house, ventured out after the storm had passed.

"It's absolutely horrendous. Catastrophic," Crown told AP. "There's flooding. Boats on the highway. A house on the highway. Houses that have been there forever are just shattered."

"There are so many downed power lines and trees that it's almost impossible to get through the city," Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson said.

The Wakulla County Sheriff's Office said parts of the county, which sits on the coast south of Tallahassee, had seen storm surge of 9 feet. The winds were dying down and crews were beginning to access the damage.

Before Michael Made Landfall

Hours before landfall, reports of damage and flooding were relayed from the coast. Residents who refused to evacuate were cut off when bridges were closed, including along St. George Island, where some called for help Wednesday morning but were told crews would not be able to reach them, a National Weather Service storm report said.

Wednesday morning, Florida Gov. Rick Scott shared dire advice: "The time to evacuate has come and gone ... SEEK REFUGE IMMEDIATELY."

"Unfortunately, Hurricane Michael has become a hurricane of the worst kind," FEMA Administrator Brock Long told reporters.

The Florida Highway Patrol said it pulled its troopers away from coastal areas because it was too dangerous to keep them in those areas.

"We have done everything we can as far as getting the word out," said Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith told the AP. "Hopefully more people will leave."

More than 375,000 people along the Gulf Coast in 22 counties were ordered or urged to evacuate, officials said.

All airports along the Florida Panhandle closed throughout the storm, and flights were canceled. Tallahassee International Airport tweeted late Wednesday that the airfield had reopened but priority was being given to relief flights. Commercial flights were set to resume midday Thursday, the airport said.

Waves from the Choctawhatchee Bay pound the seawall on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, on Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, as Hurricane Michael closes in on land.
(Nick Tomecek/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP)

In Bay County, first responders were no longer able to respond to emergencies as of Wednesday morning, but the Panama City Fire Department would continue responding to life-threatening emergency calls that came from within the city limits, the county said in a tweet.

"There’s no way to put a silver lining on this," said Jim Cantore, storm tracker for The Weather Channel, Wednesday morning while reporting live on Panama City Beach.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in Florida to free up as many resources as possible for storm and emergency response.

Rescue teams and utility trucks descended on the region by the hundreds from all over the country as they prepared to help with the aftermath.

"We have a pit in our stomachs, too," National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said during a Wednesday morning interview on The Weather Channel.

(MORE: The Latest from the Carolinas)

Evacuation orders were expanded for additional areas in the path of the storm on Tuesday. Mandatory evacuations were ordered for Okaloosa Island and Holiday Isle Tuesday afternoon, and voluntary evacuations were in place for residents in flood-prone areas of Pasco County.

FloridaDisaster.org has a complete list of areas under mandatory and voluntary evacuations.

"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," warned Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan during a news conference Monday. "That’s the criticality of following directions."

Scott said more than 3,500 Florida National Guard members were activated for storm response. He added that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was ready to deploy and the Department of Transportation was monitoring the situation.

All bridges leading to and from coastal islands were closed Wednesday morning. With road closures expected to be a fluid situation, officials urged residents to follow updates on the Department of Transportation's Twitter page.

(MORE: Shelters Open as Michael Nears Gulf Coast)

"This is the worst storm that the Florida Panhandle has seen in more than 100 years," said Scott.

Florida State University, Florida A&M University and Tallahassee Community College all announced that campuses would be closed Tuesday through Friday. FSU opened the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center as a shelter for students and faculty.

Leon County Schools posted a tweet Monday saying all schools would be closed through the rest of the week. Bay District Schools will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday, the Panama City News Herald reported.

Information from the Associated Press was included in this report.


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