Hurricane Michael increased in strength as it made a direct hit on the Florida Panhandle 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 the heavy rain.
Forecasters said rainfall could reach up to a foot and the life-threatening storm surge could swell to 14 feet. By 3pm, Michael still had top sustained winds of 150 mph as its core moved over Florida’s Panhandle.
The National Weather Service says tornadoes are possible across the Florida Panhandle, southeast Georgia and southern South Carolina through Thursday morning as the hurricane now moves inland.
Michael, which was supercharged by abnormally warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, is one of the most powerful storms to hit the U.S. mainland in nearly 50 years.
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.