Hurricane Michael is blasting trees, closing down Waffle Houses, and flooding the Florida panhandle. A neighbor told McCall that all the docks in the area were destroyed and many people are stuck in their homes as the roads have been blocked with debris. Michael tore to shore packing 155 miles per hour winds, rough surf and storm surge and dumped several inches of rain.
Under a clear blue sky, families living along the Florida Panhandle emerged from shelters and hotels to a perilous landscape of shattered homes and shopping centers, wailing sirens and hovering helicopters.
He said "aggressive" search and rescue efforts would get underway. "So many lives have been changed forever".
Megan McCall says her brother Jeff and his family were riding out the storm in the Panhandle. An 130km stretch of Interstate 10, the main east-west route along the Panhandle, was closed. It morphed into a fierce Category 4 by the time it came ashore near Mexico Beach, Florida on Wednesday afternoon, with wind speeds of 250 km/h. In a beach town home about 1,000 people, entire blocks of homes have been reduced to nothing but concrete slabs in the sand or piles of splintered lumber. Some operate vacation home rentals, while others work jobs cleaning and maintaining the homes. Roofs were peeled away and sent airborne.
More than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast were ordered or urged to evacuate as Michael closed in. But it moved fast and intensified quickly, and emergency authorities lamented that many people ignored the warnings. "Hopefully they don't, but those numbers could climb as search-and-rescue teams get out". But the fate of many residents was unknown.
"I don't think it will ever be the same", said her husband Danny, 64, who is semi-retired.
One of the hardest-hit spots in Florida is Mexico Beach, where Michael crashed ashore. When the house filled with storm surge water, they fled upstairs. "When the doors to the church were open she would want to be there", her father Roy Radney said. "When the water came in, houses started floating in front of our home". "People will just pack up and leave".
Police officers spent the night patrolling the area to prevent looting and responding to calls for assistance, making do with damaged patrol cars that eased across downed power lines and even around small buildings flipped into the middle of streets. "I would do anything to just know he's OK", she said. But "we have to make sure things are safe".
Nearly 1.2 million homes and businesses were without power from Florida to Virginia on Thursday because of the storm.
Air India flight hits airport wall before take-off
Air India IX 611, which was carrying 130 passengers and six crew members, was diverted to Mumbai, where it landed safely. The Air India Express flight was diverted to Mumbai after two of its wheels hit the wall at 1:19 am.
"There were mandatory evacuation orders, but only idiots like us stuck around", said Jordon Tood, 31, a charter boat captain in Port St. Joe. No injuries were reported, but there's roof damage to "nearly every home" on the base. Twisted street signs lay on the ground. Aluminum siding was shredded to ribbons.
A pine tree punched a hole in the roof of the apartment where 29-year-old Vance Beu was staying with his mother.
In neighboring Panama City Beach, Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford reported widespread looting of homes and businesses.
The hurricane damaged hospitals and nursing homes in the Panama City area, and officials worked to evacuate hundreds of patients.
The state mental hospital in Chattahoochee, which has a section for the criminally insane, was cut off by land, and food and supplies were being flown in, authorities said. All phone communicaiton was cut off to the complex of almost 1,000 residents and more than 300 staff, leaving emergency radios as their only link out.
- A GoFundMe page has been set up for an 11-year-old girl killed in southwest Georgia during Hurricane Michael.
Officials confirmed that a person has been killed in the storm in northwestern Florida. A falling tree also killed one man in Iredell County, North Carolina.
The storm was the third strongest to hit the United States mainland in recorded history after making landfall Wednesday as a Category 4 colossus with sustained winds of 155 miles per hour - just 2 miles per hour short of iconic Category 5 status.