Hurricane Michael, a potentially catastrophic Category 4 storm, made landfall in the Florida Panhandle Wednesday afternoon, bringing a life-threatening storm surge of up to 14 feet high.
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Hurricane Michael — described by Florida Gov. Rick Scott as “monstrous” — made landfall with 155 mph winds. The hurricane would have been a Category 5 if it reached 156 mph.
It is the worst hurricane to hit the Panhandle since the mid-1800s, the director of FEMA said.
As the hurricane came to shore, ABC News chief meteorologist Ginger Zee said she saw an “entire home, a well built home, rolling down the street. … it makes you shake.”
Cameron Sadowski walks along where waves are crashing onto the beach as the outer bands of hurricane Michael arrive, Oct. 10, 2018 in Panama City Beach,
Hurricane Michael is seen from the International Space Station,
Thousands have fled the coastline to shelters. But by Wednesday morning, officials said the time to evacuate was over.
“This was a shock waking up knowing it was a [Category] 4,” said Panama City Beach resident Julie Gordon. “Thinking it was a [Category] 2 was a very different story.”
All bridges from Panama City Beach to further inland have closed, so Gordon said she is riding out Michael at home, “hoping and praying that the storm will continue to drift to the northeast … [an area] where it’s not quite as populated.”
Life-threatening storm surge
Michael is forecast to bring heavy rain of up to 12 inches.
As Michael approached the coast its pressure dropped to about 919 millibars (mb). The lower the pressure, the more intense the storm. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 made landfall with a pressure of 920 millibars
Waves take over a house as Hurricane Michael comes ashore in Alligator Point, Fla., Oct. 10, 2018.
One of the biggest threats is storm surge, which could reach 14 feet when the strong winds push the ocean water onto land.
“You cannot hide from storm surge,” Scott warned at a news conference Tuesday. “This storm can kill you.”
The nation’s emergency management director said he hopes people have evacuated areas that are vulnerable to inundation by a storm surge.
“Largely, the storm surge area is the one unforgiving hazard,” Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told “Good Morning America” on Wednesday. “Anybody that doesn’t evacuate that experiences storm surge doesn’t typically live to tell about that story.”
Wind gusts in excess of 130 MPH are expected as Hurricane Michael makes landfall, Oct. 10, 2018.
Residents seek shelter
The Panhandle is the wide strip of northwest Florida with the Gulf of Mexico to the south and Alabama and Georgia to the north. Popular with tourists for its beaches, the area also has many year-round residents — its largest city is Pensacola, with a population approaching half a million.
The last Category 4 hurricanes to strike the U.S. mainland were both in 2017 — Irma, which slammed into Florida, and Harvey, which hit Texas.
About 375,000 people are under mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders across parts of 18 Florida counties, according to The Associated Press.
By Wednesday morning, it was too late to evacuate the Florida coast. Those who remained were urged to shelter in place.
“First responders will not be able to come out in the middle of the storm,” the governor tweeted. “If you chose to stay in an evacuation zone, you must SEEK REFUGE IMMEDIATELY.”
About 4,000 people have entered 70 evacuation shelters, FEMA officials said.
Michael may bring weekslong power outages, officials added.
People seek safety in a shelter as Hurricane Michael approaches, Oct. 10, 2018, in Panama City, Fla.
Mobile homes are especially a concern since they aren’t built to withstand hurricane-force winds, so in one county in south Georgia, mobile home residents were invited to shelter at a local church, reported ABC affiliate WALB in Albany, Georgia.
“The size of this thing is growing,” said Reggie Rachals, sheriff of Lee County, Georgia. “It will tear up mobile home parks real bad.”