Michael, the fiercest storm to hit Florida in more than 80 years, has weakened into a tropical storm over central Georgia but damaging winds are still gusting inland, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said on Thursday.
The winds were so strong they brought down a billboard in Florida's Panama City, tore down a Texaco gas pumping station canopy in Inlet Beach, and the storm surge completely knocked a house of its foundations in Mexico Beach. Flood waters could reach as high as 14 feet in some places. Gov. Rick Scott says search and rescue teams are heading into the state's hardest-hit areas to help survivors.
"Going back through records to 1851 we can't find another Cat 4 in this area, so this is unfortunately a historical and incredibly risky and life-threatening situation", he said.
"Although the latest guidance keeps a post-tropical Michael well south of P.E.I., some of that storm's moisture may enhance the rainfall from another approaching storm system, a more typical fall storm, as it moves out of Ontario and through Quebec, Thursday through Friday", he said.
Measured in this way the lower the pressure the stronger the hurricane - Michael was the most powerful since Hurricane Camille in 1969.
AccuWeather Vice President of Forecasting and Graphics Operations Marshall Moss said: "A Category 4 hurricane has never struck that part of Florida".
Reid Garrett warned that every single building he'd seen in Panama City, had damage.
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Hurricane-force winds extended up to 45 miles (75 kilometers) from Michael's center. "Panama City, I don't know if there will be much left".
A scary note in this advisory from the Hurricane Center is that "some additional strengthening is possible before landfall".
The storm is likely to fire up the debate over global warming. "She's my baby", a distraught O'Brien said, her face wet with tears. It's large bodies of warm water, scientists say.
As Michael exploded in power overnight, the expected inland effect of the storm became more expansive. Palm trees whipped wildly in the winds. "It was weird. We went outside and you could smell the pine, and there it was, laying on the chimney". About 5 p.m., her brother called a friend and said the house was getting cracks on the wall and the sliding glass doors were blowing in and starting to break.
Only a skeleton staff remained at Tyndall Air Force Base, situated on a peninsula just south of Panama City. Soon enough, Mexico Beach's emerald waters and white sugar-sand beaches were covered in a dark sea of splintered debris, she said. Hundreds of military families were moved out, and the base's aircraft, which include F-22 Raptors, were flown to safety hundreds of miles away.
The threshold for a Category 5 hurricane is 157 miles per hour maximum sustained winds.
Hargan, a bartender at a riverfront restaurant, feared he would lose his home and his job to the storm.
"I'm freaking scared I'm going to lose everything I own, man."