PANAMA CITY: Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida coast on Wednesday as the most powerful storm to hit the southern US state in more than a century as officials warned it could wreak “unimaginable devastation”. Michael made landfall as a monstrous Category 4 storm near Mexico Beach, a town about 32kms southeast of Panama City, around 1pm Eastern time (1700 GMT), the National Hurricane Center said.
As the eye of the hurricane came ashore, winds of up to 250 kilometres per hour and driving rain pounded beachfront communities on the Florida Panhandle, the finger-shaped strip of land along the Gulf of Mexico.
“Hurricane Michael is forecast to be the most destructive storm to hit the Florida Panhandle in a century,” Governor Rick Scott said.
Hundreds of thousands of people were ordered to evacuate their homes and the governor told residents that if they have not already done so it was now too late.
“The time to evacuate the coastal areas has come and gone... Hunker down, and be careful,” he said. “Don’t go out in the middle of this. You are not going to survive it. It’s deadly.” “This is, unfortunately, a historical and incredibly dangerous and life-threatening situation,” said Ken Graham, director of the Miami-based NHC.
“It’s going to be incredibly catastrophic.”
Long, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said many Florida buildings were not built to withstand a storm above the strength of a Category 3 hurricane on the five-level Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
As it came ashore, Michael was just shy of a Category 5 — defined as a storm packing wind speeds of 157 mph or above.
Residents of the neighbouring state of Georgia should also expect to be heavily impacted by the storm, the FEMA head said. “Citizens in Georgia need to wake up and pay attention,” Long said.
Trump issued an emergency declaration for Florida, freeing up federal funds for relief operations and providing the assistance of FEMA, which has more than 3,000 people on the ground. Scientists have long warned that global warming will make storms more destructive, and some say the evidence for this may already be visible.
Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2018