Hurricane Michael has claimed its first life after a man was killed by a falling tree in Florida.
The tree fell on a home in Greensboro, killing a man inside the property, Gadsden Co. sheriff reports.
The extremely powerful storm crashed into the state’s northwestern Panhandle coast on Wednesday.
The huge storm system has been flooding towns and ripping up trees with 155mph (249 kph) winds and has the potential for a devastating storm surge.
Michael, which had caught many by surprise with its rapid intensification as it churned north over the Gulf of Mexico, was the most powerful storm ever recorded to hit the Panhandle, a thin stretch of land in upper Florida.
It gathered still more strength just before making landfall northwest of the town of Mexico Beach on Wednesday afternoon as
a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.
Its sustained winds were just 2 mph (3.2 kph) shy of being an extremely rare Category 5.
Pictures from Mexico Beach and Panama City show the absolute devastation wrought by the storm system.
Buildings which have not been destroyed are submerged.
Florida Governor Rick Scott has requested that President Trump issue a Major Disaster Declaration following Hurricane Michael’s landfall.
Trump has set off for a campaign rally this evening. He tweeted: “Departing the White House for Erie, Pennsylvania. I cannot disappoint the thousands of people that are there – and the thousands that are going. I look forward to seeing everyone this evening.”
The storm, which caused a major disruption for oil and gas production in the gulf, had the potential to drive sea water levels as high as 14 feet (4.3 meters) above normal in some areas, the National Hurricane Center said.
"My God, it’s scary. I didn’t expect all this,” said Bill Manning, 63, a grocery clerk who left his camper van in Panama City to move into a hotel where the power eventually went out.
"Panama City, I don’t know if there will be much left."
Only a couple of hours after Michael came ashore, floodwaters already were more than 7-1/2 feet (2.3 meters) deep near Apalachicola, said Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center.
In a Facebook Live post, Graham said Michael would sustain hurricane-strength winds as it pushed inland to the Alabama-Georgia border.
People in coastal parts of 20 Florida counties had been told to head to safer locations but by Wednesday morning were told it
was too late to flee.
Much of the affected area is rural and known for small tourist cities, beaches and wildlife reserves, as well as the state capital, Tallahassee, home to about 190,000 people.
Even before Michael made full landfall, it was whipping trees with its winds and flooding the town of Port St. Joe.
"It feels like you don’t know when the next tree is going to fall on top of you because its blowing so ferociously," said
Port St. Joe Mayor Bo Patterson.
"You just don’t know when the next one is going down. It’s very, very scary. We have trees being uprooted, heavy, heavy rain."
Patterson said about 2,500 of the town’s 3,500 people were still there, including about 100 in a beachside area who ignored
a mandatory evacuation order.
"This happened so quickly, we weren’t exactly prepared," he said.
Brock Long, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said early evacuation efforts in the area were slow.
Michael grew from a tropical storm to a Category 4 hurricane in about 40 hours.
"Satellite images of Michael’s evolution on Tuesday night were, in a word, jaw-dropping," wrote Bob Henson, a meteorologist with weather site Weather Underground.
Graham said on Facebook that Michael would be the worst storm in recorded history to hit the Panhandle.
"Going back through records to 1851 we can’t find another Cat 4 in this area, so this is unfortunately a historical and incredibly dangerous and life-threatening situation," he said.
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