Tuesday 12 November 2019

Hurricane Michael speeds towards Florida

More than 180,000 people are under mandatory evacuation orders.

Hurricane Michael in the Gulf of Mexico (NOAA via AP)
Hurricane Michael in the Gulf of Mexico (NOAA via AP)

By Brendan Farrington and Tamara Lush, Associated Press

Hurricane Michael is speeding towards the Florida Panhandle with 120 mph winds and a potential storm surge of 13 feet.

Drawing energy from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the storm strengthened rapidly into a potentially devastating Category 3 by Tuesday evening.

It was expected to blow ashore around midday local time on Wednesday near Panama City Beach, along a lightly populated stretch of fishing villages and white-sand beaches.

(PA Graphics)

While Florence took five days between the time it turned into a hurricane and the moment it rolled into the Carolinas, Michael gave Florida what amounted to two days’ notice.

It developed into a hurricane on Monday, and by Tuesday, more than 180,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders.

Coastal residents rushed to board up their homes and stock up on bottled water and other supplies.

Florida governor Rick Scott warned it was a “monstrous hurricane”, and his Democratic opponent for the Senate, Bill Nelson, said a “wall of water” could cause destruction along the Panhandle.

“Don’t think that you can ride this out if you’re in a low-lying area,” Mr Nelson said on US news channel CNN.

Concerns have been raised over an apparent lack of urgency among some residents to evacuate.

Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said: “I am not seeing the level of traffic on the roadways that I would expect when we’ve called for the evacuation of 75% of this county.”

Mandatory evacuation orders went into effect in Panama City Beach and other low-lying areas in the storm’s path. That included Pensacola Beach but not in Pensacola itself, a city of about 54,000.

Forecasters said parts of the Panhandle and Florida’s marshy, lightly populated Big Bend area — the crook of Florida’s elbow — could see 9 to 13 feet (2.7 to 4 meters) of storm surge.

About 20 miles in from the coast, in Tallahassee, the state capital, people rushed to fill their petrol tanks and get supplies. Many petrol stations in Tallahassee had run out of fuel.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Florida’s Democratic nominee for governor, helped people fill sandbags.

Several people were taken by van from coastal Wakulla County to Tallahassee’s Leon County to the north. Wakulla County’s shelters are not considered reliable against storms stronger than a Category 2.

Michael could dump up to a foot of rain over some Panhandle communities before its remnants go back out to sea by way of the mid-Atlantic states over the next few days.

Forecasters said it could bring 3 to 6 inches of rain to Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia, triggering flash flooding in a corner of the country still recovering from Florence.

“I know people are fatigued from Florence, but don’t let this storm catch you with your guard down,” North Carolina governor Roy Cooper said, adding: “A number of homes have rooftop tarps that could be damaged or blown away with this wind.”

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