Home / Mobile / Michael updates: Trump declares disasters in Florida, Georgia; storm churns through Carolinas – Washington Post

Michael updates: Trump declares disasters in Florida, Georgia; storm churns through Carolinas – Washington Post

Tropical Storm Michael continues to march through the Southeast, still packing powerful winds and flood-causing rains. Michael made landfall in the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday as a “potentially catastrophic” Category 4 hurricane — the strongest on record to hit the area — and charged north through Georgia and into the Carolinas, wreaking havoc and causing emergencies. In the storm’s wake lay crushed and flooded buildings, shattered lives and at least two deaths.

See the latest from the Capital Weather Gang here and track the storm’s path here.

1:45 p.m.: Tyndall Air Force Base takes “widespread” damage 

Hurricane Michael pummeled Tyndall Air Force Base, near Panama City, Fla., causing “widespread roof damage to nearly every home and leaving the base closed until further notice, officials said.

Tyndall is located just east of Panama City, which endured punishing winds and took intense rain from the storm.

“At this point, Tyndall residents and evacuated personnel should remain at their safe location,” said Col. Brian Laidlaw, 325th Fighter Wing commander. “We are actively developing plans to reunite families and plan to provide safe passage back to base housing.”

In a statement, officials said the that the “catastrophic” storm delivered a direct hit to the base, “bringing down trees and power lines, ripping roofs off buildings and causing significant structural damage.”

Michael’s winds topped 150 miles per hour. No injuries have so far been reported, the base said, but the condition of Tyndall’s runway is not yet known.

Base officials will conduct initial damage assessments when it is safe. Tyndall’s mandatory evacuation order was declared Monday, and it remains in effect. The 600 families who live on base were offered space in local shelters.

— Emily Wax-Thibodeaux

1:10 p.m.: Trump declares disasters in Georgia, Florida

President Trump approved disaster requests for Georgia and Florida stemming from the hurricane, moves that authorize federal authorities to coordinate response efforts while also opening up federal funding to officials in those areas.

The White House said Trump declared a major disaster in Florida, while FEMA said that he had signed an emergency declaration for Georgia. In remarks Thursday, Trump addressed the hurricane, noting that it had swept through the area quickly.

“The big problem with this hurricane was the tremendous power, and fortunately it was very fast,” he said Thursday. “It went through Florida very, very quickly.”

Trump also defended his decision to hold a political rally in Pennsylvania on Wednesday night, an event that occurred while the storm, then still packing hurricane-force winds, was still churning through the Southeast, saying that he could not disappoint the people already in line.

— Mark Berman and Felicia Sonmez

12:30 p.m.: What’s next for Tropical Storm Michael

The storm once known as Hurricane Michael has weakened, but it continued to batter the Southeast on Thursday, and the impact will continue to spread in the coming day.

Forecasts now call for Michael to sweep across the Carolinas and then southeast Virginia through the day, dropping up to seven inches of rain in some areas, which could lead to flash flooding. Other areas could see up to three inches of rain, but more than twice that amount could fall in a swath from Charlotte to Richmond and on to Salisbury, Md.

Head to the Capital Weather Gang for the latest on where the storm is going now.

— Mark Berman

11:52 a.m.: Cajun Navy charges into Florida

Just as they did last summer in Texas during Hurricane Harvey and last month during Hurricane Florence, several groups of grass-roots, ragtag search-and-rescue teams have arrived in Michael’s wake.

But this time, even the experienced Cajun storm chasers say they are more cautious due to the number of downed trees and telephone poles.

“This one just looks like a bomb dropped,” said Clyde Cain, a self-described admiral with the Louisiana Cajun Navy. “This one is so powerful that my guys are having to use chain saws to cut through downed trees to get into the neighborhoods. This one is just real bad, and no one saw it coming. We were just recovering from Florence.”

Cain, who was at a command center they set up in Mobile, Ala., said he’s been so busy after Hurricane Florence that “my mama still hasn’t seen me.” He said he was warning his guys this time to be even more careful, “there are a whole lot of telephone poles dropping. This one is just real dangerous.”

— Emily Wax-Thibodeaux

10:50 a.m.: North Carolina, reeling from Florence and now lashed by Michael, “adds unwelcome insult to injury”

As the remnants of Hurricane Michael began to spread across North Carolina, state officials warned on Thursday morning that residents were feeling an impact that would only worsen. Tens of thousands had lost power, at least 16 roads were closed, dozens of school systems shuttered and three rivers were poised for moderate or major flooding, authorities said.

Gov. Roy Cooper (D) offered his thoughts for the other states that bore the brunt of the storm, something that North Carolina is grimly familiar with after Hurricane Florence delivered deadly flooding last month.

“People in North Carolina know all too well what that feels like,” he said to his neighbors to the south. “For North Carolina, Michael isn’t as bad as Florence, but it adds unwelcome insult to injury, so we must be on alert.”

The National Hurricane Center said that shortly before 11 a.m., the center of Michael was about 35 miles away from Charlotte and “producing heavy rainfall and tropical-storm-force wind gusts” across much of the central and eastern parts of both Carolinas.

Tropical-storm-force winds extend up to 185 miles from the storm’s center, mostly to the south and east, with a wind gust of 54 mph reported in South Carolina.

“On the forecast track, the center of Michael will continue to move across central and eastern North Carolina today, move across southeastern Virginia this evening, and move into the western Atlantic Ocean tonight,” the hurricane center said.

— Mark Berman

10:20 a.m.: FEMA: “Mexico Beach took the brunt”

FEMA chief William “Brock” Long said that Mexico Beach, Fla., not far from where Hurricane Michael made landfall as a powerful system, appeared to be “ground zero” of the storm’s impact.

“Mexico Beach took the brunt,” Long said during a news briefing Thursday morning in Washington. “That’s probably ground zero.”

Still, Long noted that authorities still had not “been able to get in and truly assess” the damage, which he said would take some time over the next two days.

Long warned people in the region to expect a long-lasting impact from the storm, which spent much of Wednesday battering Florida before it thundered north across Georgia and South Carolina. He pointed in particular to the power outages affecting hundreds of thousands of people across Florida, Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas, saying that it could take weeks for the lights to come back on everywhere because of the damage.

“It’s not just power lines being down, it’s transformers that are down, it’s substations that have been impacted,” Long said. “This is not stuff that you just put back together overnight.”

There was a sliver of good news, Long said: Officials were not expecting additional flooding in the parts of the Carolinas that suffered flooding during Hurricane Florence.

But some parts of the coastal Carolinas were facing a threat of storm surge, he said, warning people in the area: “It’s not over.”

— Mark Berman

10:05 a.m.: Florida governor: “We will recover and we will do it together”

Gov. Rick Scott (R) on Thursday morning urged Floridians to remain cautious even as the remnants of Hurricane Michael have moved north, saying that the storm’s aftermath could pose a threat to people in the Florida Panhandle region.

Scott said he remains concerned about people who did not evacuate during the storm. As of Thursday morning, he said the state has only confirmed one fatality due to the storm; Georgia has also reported one death from the storm.

“Hopefully everybody made it through the storm,” Scott said. “Be safe. There’s downed power lines, don’t touch them. There’s a lot of trees down, don’t get injured. If you’re going to use a generator, make sure you know how to use it properly.”

He added: “We will recover and we will do it together.”

Scott noted that the storm came on quickly and left just as rapidly after tearing through Florida for much of Wednesday. “I know this thing came up fast,” he said.

Still, he pleaded again with people who evacuated coastal communities not to return yet, saying: “Everyone needs to stay off the roads.”

— Mark Berman

9:20 a.m. update: More than 750,000 power outages reported across Southeast

The storm has knocked out power to more than 754,000 across the Southeastern United States, with more than half of those outages occurring in Florida, where Michael first made landfall Wednesday as a powerful system.

Florida officials reported about 400,000 outages as of Thursday morning, with power entirely or largely knocked out in counties including Bay, Gulf and Jackson. In Georgia, more than 174,000 customers lacked power on Thursday morning. South Carolina had about 114,000 outages, while North Carolina (more than 23,000 outages) and Alabama (about 43,000 outages) both had wide swaths of people without power.

— Mark Berman

8:44 a.m.: Michael moves over South Carolina and heads for North Carolina

After wreaking havoc across the Florida Panhandle and Georgia, the storm’s center was moving over South Carolina on Thursday morning, its tropical-storm-force winds extending out across that state and Georgia, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The storm was about 40 miles west of Columbia, S.C., at 8 a.m., and tropical storm warnings extended from Georgia through the Carolinas. The strongest winds were mostly spreading north along the coastlines of the Carolinas, with maximum sustained winds near 50 mph, the center said.

The hurricane center said Michael would keep moving quickly toward the northeast. On its current track, the storm is forecast to move through the center of South Carolina on Thursday morning, then rumble across parts of central and eastern North Carolina before shifting across southeastern Virginia in the afternoon or evening. Forecasters say Michael is expected to move out into the Atlantic Ocean by late Thursday or early Friday.

— Mark Berman

8:17 a.m.: Florida Gov. Rick Scott: ‘Stay safe’

Before heading to the Gulf Coast to survey the damage, Gov. Rick Scott (R) had a message for Floridians: “You survived this unbelievable storm; stay safe.”

There are downed power lines and downed trees “all over the place,” Scott said on CNN, noting that there was “unbelievable devastation.”

“Stay in your house, listen to the locals, be safe — don’t do anything foolish,” said Scott.

Two Michael-related deaths have been confirmed, including one in Florida, and the governor noted that “we have a lot of people I’ve heard are injured.”

He added: “My biggest concern would be loss of life.”

J. Freedom du Lac

7:55 a.m.: Mexico Beach ‘wiped out’

FEMA Administrator William “Brock” Long said early Thursday that “search and rescue is where we are hyper-focused this morning” — particularly in Mexico Beach, Fla., which “was wiped out” by Hurricane Michael’s storm surge, he said.

“We have a lot of work to do … there’s a lot of debris that we’ve got to get through,” Long said on CNN. “We’re trying to get into areas like Mexico Beach, get the teams in to be able to assess damage.”

Long was asked about Michael’s confirmed death toll, which stands at two. “Those numbers could climb,” he said. “Hopefully they don’t, but those numbers could climb as search-and-rescue teams get out.”

Another priority, Long said: Restoring the power throughout the Southeast.

“You fix the power, you solve a lot of problems,” he told Fox News.

More than half a million people across Florida, Georgia and South Carolina have lost power due to the storm. It may be weeks before some of them get their electricity back, Long said.

— J. Freedom du Lac

6:47 a.m.: ‘Absolutely catastrophic!’

The sun will rise across the Florida Panhandle sometime around 7 on Thursday, and Hurricane Michael’s trail of destruction will begin to come into clearer focus. But the early indicators are troubling.

Consider what storm chaser Josh Morgerman tweeted Wednesday night: “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.”

Morgerman has chased some of the most extreme hurricanes and typhoons across the world. As the Capital Weather Gang noted, “he is not prone to hyperbole.”

Early Thursday, he said that Michael was “definitely one of the most violent [hurricanes] I’ve been in.”

Another storm chaser, Mark Sudduth, tweeted: “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! You will not believe your eyes when you see it.”

Sudduth added: “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.”

— J. Freedom du Lac

5 a.m.: Michael continues to weaken as the storm heads toward the Carolinas.

Tropical Storm Michael keeps getting weaker as it crosses rain-soaked Georgia and moves northeast toward South Carolina, the National Hurricane Center said in its latest update. By 2 a.m., sustained winds had decreased to 60 mph; at 5 a.m., they had fallen to 50 mph.

However, the center said, winds have picked up at certain points along the Georgia and South Carolina coast. Large parts of Georgia, the Carolinas and southeastern Virginia could still see deadly flash floods today and remain under a tropical storm warning.

The storm’s center is currently about 30 miles west of Augusta, Ga., near the South Carolina border. Forecasters expect that Michael will continue to weaken today as the storm travels over land, likely reaching central South Carolina this morning. Once Michael reaches the Atlantic, the storm is expected to intensify again as it becomes a post-tropical low.

— Antonia Farzan

3:30 a.m.: Apple CEO, a Gulf Coast native, pledges to help with recovery.

On Wednesday night, Apple CEO Tim Cook pledged that the company would help with recovery and relief efforts. “I grew up on the shores of the Gulf Coast, near Pensacola and Mobile, and that region holds a special place in my heart,” he wrote on Twitter. “That’s never been more true than now.”

Cook grew up in Robertsdale, Ala., a city of roughly 5,200 people located roughly halfway between Mobile and Pensacola, Fla. His father worked at Mobile’s shipyards, and his mother worked at a drugstore.

Though Cook has called himself a “a proud son of the South,” his relationship with the socially conservative community where he grew up is complicated. When Cook came out as gay in 2014, Robertsdale Mayor Charles Murphy suggested that he should have kept his sexual orientation private. “Tim has done a good job with Apple. We’re very proud of the accomplishments that he’s made,” he told Reuters. “Sometimes people’s personal lives need to stay personal.”

Visiting Robertsdale in 2016, The Washington Post’s Todd Frankel noted that Cook’s name wasn’t on the town’s welcome signs, the chamber of commerce brochures, or at his old high school. One former classmate speculated that the lack of recognition might be connected to Cook’s advocacy for gay rights.

— Antonia Farzan

2 a.m.: Officials in Georgia’s Seminole County confirm a second storm-related fatality.

High winds from Hurricane Michael lead to the death of an 11-year-old girl in Seminole County, Ga., EMA Director Travis Brooks told The Washington Post early Thursday morning. The girl had been inside a trailer home in an unincorporated area of the county near Lake Seminole, close to the Florida-Georgia border. From what officials could determine, Brooks said, it looked like a metal carport used to store boats had been lifted in the air by the gusting winds and had flipped over. When it landed, its legs crashed through the roof of a neighboring mobile home and hit the girl in the head.

“It looked like a war zone,” Brooks said, adding that it had taken deputies from the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office practically all day to get to the mobile home due to the road conditions in the area. The death is the second known fatality connected with Hurricane Michael, which has since been downgraded to a tropical storm.

— Antonia Farzan

1:30 a.m.: Michael weakens to a tropical storm over South-Central Georgia.

After crushing the Florida coast, Hurricane Michael weakened as it passed through south-central Georgia on Wednesday night. By midnight, peak winds had dropped to 70 mph, causing forecasters to reclassify it as a tropical storm. Heavy rainfall is expected to continue drenching Georgia through the early hours of the morning, with a threat of flash flooding overnight.

Meanwhile, the Waffle House near Florida State University’s campus in Tallahassee was open for business at 12:28 a.m., with lines stretching out the door. FEMA officials famously use the Waffle House Index as a way of measuring storm damage: Since the diner chain is ubiquitous in the southeast, and rarely shuts down in extreme weather, seeing the Waffle House closed down before a storm is a sign that things are about to get extremely bad. If the Waffle House hasn’t reopened after the storm, FEMA considers that a sign that the area has experienced major devastation.

On Wednesday morning, a Waffle House spokesman had announced that 30 restaurants in Florida and Georgia were closed in preparation for Hurricane Michael, including locations along the Florida Panhandle from Panama City to Destin. It was a clear warning that the storm should be taken seriously.

— Antonia Farzan

10:35 p.m.: Stunning visuals from Florida

Before the sun went down and the skies turned midnight blue, those in the path of Hurricane Michael shared glimpses of what some say is the worst hurricane damage they’ve seen. “We’re kind of getting crushed,” Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith said to The Washington Post. “It’s horrific.”

Here are three photos that capture the awe such a powerful storm brings.

A car is seen caught in floodwaters in Panama City, Fla. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

— Keith McMillan

10:05 p.m. Storm chasers say they are shocked by the damage

Images of the destruction in coastal Florida towns circulated widely Wednesday night, shocking even seasoned storm chasers and weather watchers. Smith, the sheriff of Franklin County, a coastal patch south of Tallahassee, told CNN that the county was nearly isolated after most of the main roads were rendered impassable from flooding and downed trees.

“It’s bad,” he said. “We’ve been through hurricanes but never where we were completely cut off like this.”

Linda Albrecht, a councilwoman in Mexico Beach, spoke to the network about leaving her home with only a few essential objects.

“It feels like a nightmare,” she said. “Looking at the pictures, I’m thinking there is not a house left in that town.”

— Eli Rosenberg

8:16 p.m.: Local TV station is knocked off the air, but continues reporting

The storm knocked the broadcast of Panama City-based WMBB off the air after the television station lost power, one of more than 263,000 customers experiencing blackouts in Florida. But that didn’t stop the journalists from getting the report out.

Reporter Peyton LoCicero went on Periscope, an app that allows people to live stream to a public audience from a cellphone, to give updates about the storm. She spoke from the parking lot of a wrecked gas station in Walton County, tilting the camera to show the damage around her. The station’s awning had crashed to the ground.

“I wanted to let you guys know exactly what is going on,” she said, speaking about a curfew that had been instituted in nearby Bay County because of concerns about looting from the outages.

More than 17,000 people tuned into the broadcast, including Sen. Marco Rubio, who shared LoCicero’s impromptu report on Twitter.

— Eli Rosenberg

7:55 p.m.: First confirmed fatality of the storm

The Gadsden County Sheriff’s office said that a man was found dead in his home in a small town outside of Tallahassee after a tree crashed through the roof. Sgt. Angela Hightower did not identify the man but said he had been found at the home in Greensboro around 6 p.m.

— Eli Rosenberg

7:01 p.m.: The storm begins moving through Georgia, sending tornado warnings through at least three counties

The eye of Hurricane Michael began to move through southwest Georgia on Wednesday evening — the first major hurricane to reach the state since the 19th century, according to local reports.

Winds gusts of around 60 mph were reported in towns near the Georgia-Alabama border, according to the National Weather Service. A dangerous storm surge continued along the coastal Florida panhandle; a National Ocean Service station in Apalachicola was reporting 5 feet of water above the ground level.

And tornado warnings radiated out into counties near the hurricane’s path in Georgia on Tuesday evening, after reports of at least two that had formed in Florida. Officials issued brief tornado warnings for Fulton, Douglas and Cobb counties. More than 40,000 people lost power across the state.

— Eli Rosenberg 


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