Hurricane Michael increased in strength as it slammed into Florida on Wednesday afternoon as a catastrophic Category 4 hurricane, pushing a deadly storm surge and whipping the coast with 155 mph winds.
The eye of the monstrous hurricane made landfall near Mexico Beach just before 2pm and the eyewall came ashore minutes earlier between Panama City and St. Vincent Island.
Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 45 miles from the center and were tearing buildings apart in Panama City Beach. Beachfront structures could be seen collapsing and metal roofing materials were blown away amid sheets of heavy rain.
Forecasters said rainfall could reach up to a foot and the life-threatening storm surge could swell to 14 feet.
Michael, which was supercharged by abnormally warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, is one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the U.S. mainland.
Authorities told residents along the affected areas of Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coast on Wednesday morning that they had run out of time to evacuate and should hunker down.
More than 375,000 people had been urged or ordered to evacuate, but emergency authorities lamented that many people ignored the warnings and seemed to think they could ride it out.
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The eye of the monstrous Hurricane Michael (pictured above) made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida just before 2pm Wednesday and the eyewall came ashore minutes earlier between Panama City and St. Vincent Island
Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 45 miles from the center and were tearing buildings apart in Panama City Beach after the hurricane made landfall on Wednesday afternoon
Hotel employees look at a canopy that had just collapsed as Hurricane Michael tore through Panama City Beach on Wednesday afternoon
Gaining frightening fury overnight, the hurricane’s leading edge began lashing the shoreline hours before Michael’s center was expected to blow ashore.
Prior to it making landfall, Florida Governor Rick Scott said the hurricane would bring ‘unimaginable devastation’ and warned people in its path that it was now too late to evacuate, adding that he was ‘scared to death’ that some had ignored orders.
‘Hurricane Michael is forecast to be the most destructive hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle in a century,’ Scott said.
‘The time for evacuating along the coast has come and gone. First responders will not be able to come out in the middle of the storm. If you chose to stay in an evacuation zone, you must SEEK REFUGE IMMEDIATELY.
The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, told President Trump in a briefing shortly before the eye of the storm hit that it was the ‘worst kind’ of hurricane.
‘Storm surge estimates are anywhere between nine and 14 feet. Storm surge is going to be the worse where eye makes landfall – just to the east or south of where the eye makes landfall… Coupled with that you have over 145 mph winds. Structures built before 2001 are not designed to handle that type of wind, typically,’ Long said.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio told CNN it would be a ‘killer hurricane’ and warned anyone in the path of the storm surge: ‘You’re going to die’.
Residents and tourists were told to flee low-lying areas in at least 22 counties along the shore in Florida’s Panhandle and adjacent Big Bend region.
Meteorologists said it had the potential to become one of the worst storms in the history of the region as they watched satellite imagery in complete awe while the storm intensified.
‘I guess it’s the worst-case scenario. I don’t think anyone would have experienced this in the Panhandle,’ meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com said. ‘This is going to have structure-damaging winds along the coast and hurricane force winds inland.’
National Hurricane Center Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen added: ‘We are in new territory. The historical record, going back to 1851, finds no Category 4 hurricane ever hitting the Florida Panhandle.’
A satellite image of Michael took the terrifying shape of a skull as it roared closer to the Florida Panhandle as a fierce Category 4 storm on Tuesday. The sinister-looking red and gray skull appeared briefly on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration infrared satellite images.
Hours ahead of landfall, seawater was already lapping over the docks at Massalina Bayou near downtown Panama City, and knee-deep water was rising against buildings in St. Marks, which sits on an inlet south of Tallahassee, Florida’s capital.
Huge waves pounded the white sands of Panama City Beach, shooting frothy water all the way to the base of wooden stairs that lead to the beach.
More than 5,000 evacuees sought shelter in Tallahassee, which is about 25 miles from the coast but is covered by live oak and pine trees that can fall and cause power outages even in smaller storms.
A storm chaser climbs into his vehicle during the eye of Hurricane Michael to retrieve equipment after a hotel canopy collapsed in Panama City Beach on Wednesday
Waves started pounding a house in Alligator Point, Florida on Wednesday prior to Hurricane Michael making landfall
Jayden Morgan carries his dog to safety through a flooded street in St. Marks as his family evacuates at the last minute before Hurricane Michael hits the state
The St. Marks River in Florida had already started to overflow into the city on Wednesday morning prior to the hurricane making landfall
Strong winds had already caused trees to fall in Okaloosa County on Wednesday morning
Streets in Okaloosa County were already experiencing minor flooding in the hours before Hurricane Michael was due to make landfall on Wednesday
Roadways were already flooded in parts of Florida with Michael forecast to bring 155 mph destructive winds, up to a foot of rain and a life-threatening storm surge of up to 14 feet when it hits
Storm activity was intensifying on US 98 in Gulf County early Wednesday morning, hours before Michael was due to make landfall
President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for the entire state of Florida, freeing up federal assistance to supplement state and local disaster responses.
About 2,500 National Guard troops were deployed to assist with evacuations and storm preparations, and more than 4,000 others were on standby. Some 17,000 utility restoration workers were also on call.
Trump was briefed on the hurricane on Wednesday prior to it making landfall and said he would visit the area early next week. He acknowledged that a lot of the residents in the area were poor and said it was probably tough to leave.
Some of the storm’s most significant early impact was to offshore energy production. U.S. producers in the Gulf cut oil production by about 40 percent and natural gas output by 28 percent on Tuesday, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said.
Some officials were worried by what they weren’t seeing just ahead of the storm – a rush of evacuees.
‘I am not seeing the level of traffic on the roadways that I would expect when we’ve called for the evacuation of 75 percent of this county,’ Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said Tuesday.
Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson said the city, which could suffer some of the worst of the storm surge, was under mandatory evacuation orders.
‘My greatest concern is that some people are just now starting to take this storm seriously and are evacuating,’ he told CNN. ‘And I just hope the others that have not made that decision get out while the roads are still passably and before the bridges close.’
The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, told President Trump in a briefing shortly before the eye of the storm hit that it was the ‘worst kind’ of hurricane
Emily Hindle lies on the floor at an evacuation shelter set up at Rutherford High School near Panama City Beach
People wait for breakfast as they and others seek safety in a shelter in Panama City on Wednesday
Heavy rains started lashing Panama City in Florida early Wednesday morning before Hurricane Michael was expected to make landfall
Heavy surf from the approaching Hurricane Michael pounds the fishing pier on Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach
State offices, schools and universities were closed through the end of the week in Panhandle counties.
Multiple airports were closed on Wednesday, including Tallahassee International Airport, Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, Pensacola International Airport and Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport.
A total of 453 flights had been canceled on Wednesday across the country, with many occurring in the Florida area. Amtrak has also modified its service and is waiving fees for passengers who change their reservations.
The storm appeared to be so powerful that it is expected to remain a hurricane as it moves over Georgia early Thursday. Forecasters said it will unleash damaging wind and rain all the way into the Carolinas, which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence’s epic flooding.
Michael is forecast to dump torrential rain over Florida, Alabama and Georgia, as well as the Carolinas and into Virginia. Up to a foot of rainfall was forecast for some areas.
Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan bluntly advised residents choosing to ride it out that first-responders won’t be able to reach them while Michael smashes into the coast.
‘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,’ Morgan said at a news conference.
In the small Panhandle city of Apalachicola, Mayor Van Johnson Sr. said the 2,300 residents were frantically preparing for what could be a strike unlike any seen there in decades. Many filled sandbags and boarded up homes and lined up to buy gas and groceries before leaving town.
‘We’re looking at a significant storm with significant impact, possibly greater than I’ve seen in my 59 years of life,’ Johnson said of his city on the shore of Apalachicola Bay, which where about 90 percent of Florida’s oysters are harvested.
There will be no shelters open in Wakulla County, the sheriff’s office warned on Facebook, because they are rated safe only for hurricanes with top sustained winds below 111 mph. With Michael’s winds projected to be even stronger, residents were urged to evacuate inland.
‘This storm has the potential to be a historic storm, please take heed,’ the sheriff’s office said in the post.
Workers board the windows of Marco’s Pizza on Tuesday as Hurricane Michael approaches in Panama City Beach, Florida
Patrons who so far have chosen not to evacuate gather at Buster’s Beer & Bait for drinks, in Panama City Beach, Florida
People fill bags with sand at the Lynn Haven Sports Complex while preparing for Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida
Bar owner Dorothy White puts away outdoor furniture at Ouzts Too bar in Newport, Florida
Krystal Day, of Homosassa, Fla., leads a sandbag assembly line at the Old Port Cove restaurant in Ozello on Tuesday
A man walks out a liquor store with a ‘Looters will be shot’ sign before Hurricane Michael comes ashore in Carrabelle, Florida,
Cars jockey for position at the CEFCO gas station at County Road 393 and U.S. Highway 98 in South Walton County in Santa Rosa Beach as people evacuate ahead of the storm
Georgia governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency in 92 counties on Tuesday morning.
In neighboring Alabama, Governor Kay Ivey declared an emergency for the entire state on Monday in anticipation of wind damage, heavy rains and power outages.
North Carolina’s governor said he was afraid Hurricane Michael could slow the recovery for homeowners dealing with wind or flooding from Hurricane Florence.
Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday that Michael isn’t expected to hit his state as hard as Florence did last month, but people shouldn’t let their guard down, even if they’re suffering from cleanup fatigue. He said many houses that suffered roof damage in Florence are still covered in tarps and could be vulnerable to strong wind and rain.
As the storm moved north on Tuesday it battered Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and western Cuba with drenching rains and winds of up to 80 mph.
Torrential downpours and flash-flooding over the weekend caused 13 deaths in Central America after Michael formed off the coast of northern Honduras.
Hurricane Michael would be the first major hurricane to hit the panhandle since Hurricane Dennis in 2005, which made landfall near Pensacola, according to hurricane center data.
The sinister-looking skull appeared briefly on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite images on Tuesday as Hurricane Michael moved closer to Florida
Scores of Panhandle residents IGNORE evacuation orders to ride out Category 4 Hurricane Michael as officials warn it’s now too late to flee
By Keith Griffith for DailyMail.com
Some residents of the Florida Panhandle have decided to risk their own lives by refusing to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Michael, with the window to flee the coast now officially closed.
Despite days of dire warnings, these holdouts have decided to remain – and some even talk of attending a ‘hurricane party’ at a Panama City Beach bar that lies directly in Michael’s path.
For those who refused to evacuate, FEMA Director Brock Long said on Wednesday that people ‘who stick around and experience storm surge unfortunately don’t usually live to tell about it.’
‘The time for evacuating along the coast has come and gone. First responders will not be able to come out in the middle of the storm,’ Florida Governor Rick Scott said in a tweet on Wednesday morning.
‘If you chose to stay in an evacuation zone, you must SEEK REFUGE IMMEDIATELY,’ Scott wrote.
In Bay County, encompassing Panama City Beach where Michael is expected to make landfall as a Category 4 on Wednesday, roads are now closed and a mandatory shelter-in-place order has been issued.
Residents who chose not to evacuate gather at Buster’s Beer & Bait for drinks in Panama City Beach on Tuesday night. The evacuation window closed on Wednesday morning
Timothy Thomas is just a few hundred yards from the beach where Michael is expected to make landfall, but believes he will be safe in his second story apartment
Fire and emergency medical services were suspended in Bay County just before 8am local time on Wednesday.
‘Life threatening conditions are beginning to occur in Bay County. It is now time to shelter in place. Go inside, stay inside. Seek shelter in an interior room with few windows,’ Bay County Emergency Services said in a flash bulletin.
Among the evacuation holdouts is Timothy Thomas, who isn’t budging from his home in Panama City Beach, even though it’s directly in the path of Hurricane Michael.
Thomas, a 50-year-old air conditioning repairman, plans to defy an evacuation order and ride out the monster storm in an apartment that’s just a few hundred yards from the beach and even closer to the tea-colored Grand Lagoon, which will rise as the massive storm pushes ocean water toward the coast.
An Illinois native with a beard, long hair and a streak of independence, Thomas hasn’t been through a major hurricane before; he’s only lived in Panama City Beach about seven years.
A neighbor with far more storm experience evacuated to higher ground.
But police aren’t being pushy about enforcing the order, and Thomas figures he, his wife and their puppy will be OK since they live in a second-floor apartment.
It’s more than 10 feet off the ground, after all, and forecasters say the water in his area isn’t supposed to rise that much. ‘If it does I guess we’ll be swimming,’ he said Tuesday evening as the sky darkened overhead.
Thomas isn’t alone; other residents along his street also plan to take on Michael head-on, even though authorities have told about 120,000 residents of Bay County to leave.
Cameron Sadowski walks along where waves are crashing onto the beach as the outer bands of hurricane Michael arrive on Wednesday in Panama City Beach, Florida
Dwight Williams (left) and Timothy Thomas debate whether to evacuate their neighborhood in Panama City Beach on Tuesday. Thomas figures he and his wife will be safe from rising ocean water since they live in a second-story apartment, but Williams planned to leave
Thomas’ first-floor neighbors also plan to stay, and they’re welcome upstairs if the water gets too high, Thomas said. So are his next-door neighbors and their dog.
‘We’ve got canned food and a can opener. We have lots of water and food for the dogs, and I’m going to tape up the windows, cover the windows, just tack them up with sheets or whatever, to keep the glass from flying if that happens,’ he said.
As Thomas spoke, a hurricane party was going on less than two miles away at Buster’s Beer and Bait, a dive bar popular both with locals and tourists who overwhelm the region during the summer.
With Michael percolating out in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday night, dozens of people gathered outside Buster’s as small palm trees swayed in the breeze nearby.
On the bar’s Facebook page, a $5 special was announced for a drink called the ‘Storm Surge’. There was no answer at the bar when DailyMail.com attempted to reach it by phone on Wednesday morning.
Other places were shut down and locked up. The windows were covered with metal hurricane shutters at Pineapple Willie’s, a popular beachfront restaurant, and sandbags blocked the entrance to a Wells Fargo bank. Plywood covered the front at Shrimp City, a small seafood market.
Dwight Williams, who lives across the street from Thomas, wasn’t taking any chances – he and his wife were packing to evacuate.
They plan to stay with friends in DeFuniak Springs, a Panhandle town about 30 miles inland. Their single-story home is built to withstand winds blowing up to 130 mph, Williams said, but rising water is scary.
‘What worries me is the storm surge,’ said Williams, who has lived on the street about 24 years.
Thomas said relatives in Illinois had urged him to leave and stay with them, but he didn’t have a way to get so far north so quickly, and shelters aren’t a good option in his view.
Cornell Silveira, of Keaton Beach, leaves with some of his belongings as he evacuates his home as Hurricane Michael approaches the area Wednesday
‘You never know who you’re sleeping beside,’ he said. ‘Here, I do.’
So Thomas and his wife will stay put. And once the wind stops howling and the water recedes, Thomas will await the natural outcome of a hurricane for someone who works in the air conditioning business in a place known for hot, humid summers.
‘After all the air conditioners go under water, we’ll be busy,’ he said.
Another Panama City Beach resident, Teri Vega, 53, said her husband and 12-year-old daughter will remain despite the evacuation order.
‘We have a fairly new house,’ Vega told
‘It was built really well. We put the hurricane shutters up. We have tubs of water in each of the bathrooms so that we can still flush. We have a generator. We have a gas grill. Tons of canned food, water, Gatorade.’
Inland in Panama City, Missy Theiss, 54, told NBC News that she lives just outside a mandatory evacuation zone, but planned to stay because they have five animals — two cats, two small dogs, and a pit bull.
‘Nobody is going to let a pit bull into a shelter,’ Thiess said before Michael was upgraded. ‘We’ve got five animals here. I’m not leaving them. Point blank. I’m not leaving them.’ Thiess said the family is prepared with water, food and a generator.
About 90 miles west of Panama City Beach, in Pensacola Beach, one man even planned to ride out the storm on his sailing boat.