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World Tropical Storm Michael has devastated Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. Here’s what we know

Oct. 11, 2018: An American flag flies among rubble left in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla., where the storm made landfall as a Category 4 days earlier.

JONATHAN BACHMAN/Reuters

Latest updates

  • Tropical Storm Michael headed out to sea Friday morning after leaving massive damage and at least 12 deaths in its wake across the southeastern United States.
  • Floridians were assessing the heavy damage in the Florida Panhandle, where Michael landed as a Category 4 hurricane on Wednesday. Its pounding waves and winds obliterated row after row of beachfront homes where it came ashore. In Panama City, Fla., most homes were still standing, but no property was left undamaged.
  • The storm then raked across Georgia and the Carolinas, downing trees and stranding motorists in areas already badly hit by Hurricane Florence earlier this fall. All told, more than 900,000 homes and businesses in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas were without power. 
  • The Red Cross is raising funds for “the most deadly, destructive storm to the Panhandle in decades.”


Where is Michael now?

By early Friday morning, Michael was centred about 105 kilometres northeast of Norfolk, Va., the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Its maximum sustained winds were 95 kilometres an hour as it moved out into the open Atlantic. Environment Canada is predicting rain in southern Nova Scotia on Friday as the remnants of Michael pass south of the province, but said the worst of it will be offshore, unless the storm changes course.

Martin Herrera with WeatherNation captures Hurricane Michael making landfall on the Panama City, Florida coast as a Category 4 storm. Reuters

The damage so far

Death toll: At least 12 people were killed in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, according to state officials. The dead included an 11-year-old Georgia girl killed when Michael’s winds picked up a carport and dropped it through the roof of her grandparents’ home. A driver in North Carolina was killed when a tree fell on his car.

In Florida: Michael made landfall near the small town of Mexico Beach, Fla., sending massive storm surge up on shore. It was the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in Florida’s Panhandle since record-keeping began in 1851. One Panhandle man was killed by a tree that toppled on a home, Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Anglie Hightower told Associated Press. Damage in Panama City, near the landfall point, was so extensive that broken and uprooted trees and downed power lines lay nearly everywhere. Roofs were peeled away, sent airborne, and homes were split open by fallen trees.

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In Georgia: Michael’s path continued over Georgia late Wednesday and early Thursday, downgrading steadily to a tropical storm. Georgians are still taking stock of the damage, but the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Gary Black, predicted long-lasting damage to the state’s farms. He says pecan crops are badly affected and entire fields of cotton are completely wiped out.

In the Carolinas: In North Carolina’s mountains, motorists had to be rescued Thursday from cars trapped by high water. High winds toppled trees and power lines, leaving hundreds of thousands without power. Flash flooding also was reported in the big North Carolina cities of Charlotte and Raleigh.

In the Caribbean: Before turning to the United States, Michael dropped more than 27 centimetres of rain in parts of the Caribbean. In Cuba, it flooded fields, damaged roads, knocked out power and destroyed some homes in the western province of Pinar del Rio. Cuban authorities said they evacuated about 400 people from low-lying areas. Disaster agencies in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua reported 13 deaths as roofs collapsed and residents were carried away by swollen rivers.

What made Michael different?

The Atlantic hurricane season extends from June 1 through Nov. 30, and while the season peaks in August and September, big storms in October are not uncommon. What’s more notable about Michael is how quickly it escalated from a tropical depression to a catastrophic storm in a matter of days, gaining speed from warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico. The storm made landfall as the worst storm ever to hit that region and the third most intense hurricane to ever slam into the continental United States, with its minimum pressure recorded at 919 milibars (the lower the minimum pressure, the more intense the hurricane). For reference, Hurricane Katrina that hit New Orleans as a Category 3 hurricane in 2005 had a minimum pressure recorded at 910 mb.

A hotel employee holds a glass door closed as it breaks from flying debris during Hurricane Michael in Panama City Beach, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018.

Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press

The terrible trio: A hurricane’s destruction explained

Hurricanes are one of nature’s most powerful engines of destruction, turning warm sea water into wind and rain. Here’s a look at how those devastating forces are playing out in Florida. (For a more detailed primer on how hurricanes form, read more here.)

WIND

To be classified as a hurricane, a tropical storm has to have top wind speeds of 119 km/h or higher. Technically, a hurricane doesn’t have to make landfall to lash a coastal area with its strongest winds, the U.S. National Hurricane Center explains; “landfall” means that the centre of a hurricane has crossed onto a coastline, and the precise centre isn’t where the strongest winds are.

Past the 119-km/h threshold, the U.S. hurricane centre classifies storms in five categories of wind speed.

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SAFFIR-SIMPSON SCALE

Hurricane intensity is measured

by a storm’s average wind speed

WIND SPEED (km/h)

STORM SURGE (m)

Minimal

damage

Moderate

damage

119–153

1.5–1.8

154–177

1.8–2.4

Extreme

damage

Extensive

damage

178–208

2.7–3.7

209–251

4–5.5

Catastrophic

damage

251+

5.5+

the globe and mail, Source: reuters; NOAA

SAFFIR-SIMPSON SCALE

Hurricane intensity is measured

by a storm’s average wind speed

STORM SURGE (m)

WIND SPEED (km/h)

Minimal

damage

Moderate

damage

Extensive

damage

119–153

1.5–1.8

154–177

1.8–2.4

178–208

2.7–3.7

Extreme

damage

Catastrophic

damage

209–251

4–5.5

251+

5.5+

the globe and mail, Source: reuters; NOAA

SAFFIR-SIMPSON SCALE

Hurricane intensity is measured by a storm’s average wind speed

Minimal

damage

Moderate

damage

Extensive

damage

Extreme

damage

Catastrophic

damage

WIND SPEED (km/h)

STORM SURGE (m)

119–153

1.5–1.8

154–177

1.8–2.4

178–208

2.7–3.7

209–251

4–5.5

251+

5.5+

the globe and mail, Source: reuters; NOAA

STORM SURGE

A tropical cyclone is essentially a giant vaccuum of swirling water vapour, and the more powerful it is, the more water it sucks from some parts of the ocean to move to others. At one end, this creates astonishing drops in the water level, leaving boats and marine life stranded on exposed ocean floor, and at the other end, it creates storm surges, flooding streets and homes.

RAIN

While Hurricane Michael isn’t expected to drop as much rain as Hurricane Florence did on the Carolinas, a substantial amount of precipitation could still hit Florida and the surrounding area. The storm could drop a heafty amount of rain over Florida, Alabama and Georgia as well as the Carolinas, which are still reeling from severe flooding last month in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

How people prepared

Evacuations spanned 22 counties from the Florida Panhandle into north central Florida. In all, about 375,000 people were told to leave, but many refused. After the storm passed over Florida, search and rescue teams mobilized to look for wounded residents.

By Wednesday morning, only a skeleton staff remained at Tyndall Air Force Base, which is located on a peninsula just south of Panama City Beach. The home to the 325th Fighter Wing and some 600 military families appeared squarely targeted for the worst of the storm’s fury, and leaders declared “HURCON 1” status, ordering all but essential personnel to evacuate. The base’s aircraft, which include F-22 Raptors, were flown hundreds of kilometres away as a precaution, a spokesman said in a statement.

A shutdown of all commercial air travel in the area was in effect. Tallahassee International Airport; Northwest Florida Beaches Airport in Panama City; Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport, which is co-located with Eglin Air Force Base; and Pensacola International Airport were all closed.

Oct. 9: Patrons who had so far chosen not to evacuate gather at Buster's Beer & Bait for drinks, in Panama City Beach, Fla.

Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press

Oct. 9: A tourist attraction in Panama City Beach is seen with its doors boarded up to offer protection from Hurricane Michael.

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

What the government is doing

State: Florida Governor Rick Scott issued urgent warnings for people to heed the evacuation alerts, which spanned 22 counties, and get out of the way of the “monstrous hurricane.” His counterpart in Georgia, Nathan Deal, issued a state of emergency for 92 of 159 counties, as the state feared that the storm would retain hurricane force when it reached the state.

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Federal: U.S. President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in Florida and ordered federal assistance to supplement local response efforts. This allowed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts. At a rally in Erie, Pa., on Wednesday, Mr. Trump began by telling everyone in the path of the hurricane that the nation’s thoughts and prayers are with them. Mr. Trump may travel to the storm-affected zone Sunday or Monday.

What you can do

The Red Cross has set up a way to collect donations for relief from the impending storm. Global Affairs Canada is advising Canadians to avoid all travel to the storm-affected areas between Alabama and Florida to the Suwanee River.

Additional reading

Glenn McGillivray: Lessons from Hurricane Florence: Why don’t people leave?

Compiled by Globe staff

With reports from the Associated Press, New York Times News Service, The Canadian Press, Globe staff and Reuters

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