Hurricane Michael Live Updates: A Trail of Destruction in the Florida Panhandle


PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Search-and-rescue teams rushed on Thursday to reach communities that Hurricane Michael leveled, hoping to find survivors of the powerful storm after its rampage through the Florida Panhandle and beyond left buildings collapsed and splintered, hospitals damaged, roads and water systems compromised and more than a million homes and businesses without electricity.

Although it was clear by afternoon that the storm had caused widespread damage, some areas remained largely cut off, and the authorities were trying to deploy rescuers by helicopter and boat. At least two people were killed, and with the death toll expected to rise, the Panhandle and counties to the north were a vast, staggered disaster zone.

“This is a very dense part of the state, so it’s going to be a lot of work to get to everybody,” Gov. Rick Scott of Florida said. “But we will get to everybody.”

Here are the latest developments:

• An 11-year-old girl, Sarah Radney, was killed on Wednesday when a carport was torn away and was sent hurtling into the modular home she was in, said Chad Smith, the coroner of Seminole County, Ga. “She was sitting right next to her grandmother,” said Mr. Smith, who described the girl’s death as a “horrible accident.”

• A man died on Wednesday after a tree crashed down on his home in Greensboro, northwest of Tallahassee, the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office said.

• Emergency officials rushed to evacuate more than 300 patients from storm-damaged hospitals in Panama City. In total, four hospitals and 11 nursing facilities were closed in Florida. A nursing facility in Georgia was also closed.

• Much of the coast of the Florida Panhandle, including parts of Panama City and Mexico Beach, was left in ruins. The area is dotted with small, rural communities, some of them among the poorest in the state. Evacuation was difficult. Read more about how the storm was hard on people without the means to evacuate.

• At 11 a.m. on Thursday, Michael was about 25 miles south of Greensboro, N.C., heading northeast with sustained wind speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. Now a tropical storm, it is moving relatively quickly, at 23 m.p.h., and is expected to speed up as it crosses the Carolinas and blows out to sea by early Friday. Click on the map below to see the storm’s projected path.

• More than 1.1 million homes and businesses were without electricity on Thursday, state agencies and utility companies said.

• “The big problem with this hurricane was the tremendous power,” President Trump said on Thursday, adding that “we’ve not seen destruction like that for a long time.”

• Michael took the nation by surprise, intensifying rapidly from a tropical storm to a major hurricane in just two days and leaving little time for preparations. Read more about why it strengthened so quickly here.

Bay Medical Center Sacred Heart, a 300-bed hospital in the heart of Panama City, Fla., was a tumultuous mess on Thursday morning. Hurricane Michael had strafed the center, breaking windows, damaging roofs and stripping off the outsides of some buildings. Signage was strewn in the streets. Doctors, nurses and staff members wandered outside, some crying, some looking for cell service.

Bay Medical was one of two hospitals in Panama City — the other being Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center — that was damaged in the storm. Both were evacuating patients.

Bay Medical said in a statement that about 200 patients would be evacuated, including 39 intensive care patients who will be transferred first, to hospitals outside the affected area. About 1,500 people had taken shelter in the hospital, the statement said.

[Here is how you can help victims of Hurricane Michael]

The hospital was in poor condition to take in patients. Staff members said the hospital had partial electricity from its generators; there was no water and the toilets were filling up. Windows were broken. One staff member said that the fourth floor was flooded. She had tied plastic bags over her shoes and the legs of her scrubs.

Dr. Brian Roake, the head of the anesthesiology department, was among those who rode out the hurricane in the hospital. “It was like hell,” he said.

Inside, Dr. Roake said, the worst situation was in the intensive care unit, on the upper floors of a newer glass tower. The windows there are double paned, but the outer panes started breaking out on Wednesday afternoon.

There was a rush to move around 40 patients — post-heart surgery patients, critically ill septic patients, respiratory failure patients on ventilators — to safer quarters on lower floors in the center of the building.

Now came the job of moving the patients out. “They’re in the process of getting them transported to other hospitals — in Pensacola, wherever they can take them,” he said.

Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center said in a statement that it was evacuating about 130 patients, starting with the most critically ill.

“Until we can be certain of stable public power, water and sewage systems, our patients will be safest in our neighboring hospitals,” the hospital said, adding that it would do everything possible to keep its emergency room open.

Liza Marie Miller, who lives in Atlanta, said she had been trying since Wednesday to get information about her 78-year-old grandmother, who was a patient at Gulf Coast Regional. But she has been unable to reach her grandmother’s room or anyone on her floor. A hospital operator told her on Thursday morning that patients were being sent to other hospitals.

Ms. Miller said her grandmother was taken to the hospital about a week and a half ago for a serious heart condition and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She was expected to be released this week to a rehabilitation center before the hurricane hit.

“I just have to wait to figure out and see where she ends up,” Ms. Miller said. “I just know they are transporting her somewhere.”

A nursing home in Panama City also suffered damage to the roof of one of its wings, but all the residents were O.K., said Rodney C. Watford, the facility’s administrator. He said that the center, the Clifford Chester Sims State Veterans Nursing Home, was operating off a generator, which was powering air-conditioning to the building.

[Hospitals in Texas were also forced to evacuate in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.]

The photographers Gabriella Angotti-Jones, Scott McIntyre, Johnny Milano and Eric Thayer are on the ground in Florida covering the storm for The New York Times. See their images here.

Tyndall Air Force Base, which straddles a narrow spit of land jutting out into the Gulf, a dozen miles south of Panama City, “sustained extensive damage,” a post on the base’s Facebook page said.

Winds topping 130 miles an hour knocked down trees, felled power lines, tore roofs from buildings, and ripped a static display of an F-15 fighter jet at the base entrance from its foundation, pitching it into the air and tipping it upside down.

Fortunately, “there have been no injuries reported on Tyndall at this time,” the Facebook post said.

The base, which sits just nine feet above sea level, is home to a series of hangars and a runway, as well as tree-lined neighborhoods for about 600 Air Force personnel. The base hosts a number of jets, including F-22 Raptor stealth fighters, which cost well over $100 million each. The base commander ordered all jets to fly to inland bases earlier in the week.

Video footage taken from a helicopter, and posted on Twitter by the commercial weather forecaster AccuWeather, showed widespread damage.

The roof of the base’s largest hangar, which has been used to store jets during weaker storms, was skinned down to its steel rafters, revealing at least three small planes inside, covered in debris. Though the video did not reveal large amounts of standing water near the flight line, it showed roofs shorn off several other buildings surrounding the hangar, garage doors punched in, and cars flipped over.

It was unclear Thursday if the runway was usable. Base officials said they were assessing damage. It was not known when personnel would be able to return.

Other Air Force bases along the coast, as well as the Navy base in Panama City, have resumed limited operations.

[Travel remains snarled in Hurricane Michael’s wake.]

Governor Scott said Thursday that Michael had left a wide trail of devastation, and that the authorities had turned their immediate focus to rescue efforts.

“We are deploying a massive wave of response, and those efforts are already underway,” Mr. Scott said. “Help is coming by air, land and sea.”

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said he had heard from the local authorities who described extensive damage. “These are not people prone to hyperbole,” Mr. Rubio said on CNN. “Panama City is catastrophic damage. Someone told me, ‘Mexico Beach is gone.’”

The other areas of greatest concern were the eastern parts of Panama City, Apalachicola and around Tyndall Air Force Base, said Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Mr. Long said that he was equally concerned about communities in southwest Georgia, which received Category 2 wind speeds, because of the large number of mobile homes in that part of the state. “We are always worried about trees falling on manufactured homes and mobile homes,” he said.

[How a storm death is counted can vary from state to state, and even county to county.]

Early reports suggested significant damage. Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia said 450,000 homes and businesses were without power in the state, and that 35 hospitals or nursing homes were without electricity and operating with generators.

“Right now, the main focus is going to be on debris removal so that power line trucks and repair crews can access the areas that are without power,” Mr. Deal said at the State Capitol in Atlanta.

Mr. Long expected the search-and-rescue process to be challenging, given all the fallen trees, debris and downed power lines. He worried that the number of people killed in the storm would rise once crews reached places where people did not evacuate.

“People do not live to tell the tale about storm surge,” he said.

Florida officials also pleaded with residents to stay off the roads as crews tried to clear debris and emergency workers were scrambling to hard-hit areas. They asked people to avoid downed power lines, and not to drive through flooded areas. They urged residents and visitors to keep emergency phone lines open and, in some areas, to boil their water or use bottled water. They told them to position generators at least 15 feet from homes, and to stay indoors.

Like many people with family in the hurricane-ravaged area, Megan McCall is trying to reach a family member.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Ms. McCall missed a call from her brother, Jeff McCall, who was trying to ride out Hurricane Michael with his family in Alford, Fla., about 40 miles north of Panama City.

She has not heard from him since.

Ms. McCall, who lives in Jacksonville, tried calling back. At first the phone would ring, but now it is dead.

Before she had missed the call, a family friend who spoke to her brother said the situation was dire: a three-inch crack in the wall was letting water into the house. Mr. McCall, 43, was in the basement, with his wife, Kristi McCall, their 6-year-old daughter, her 10-year-old son and her parents.

Now, Megan McCall, 30, is trying to reach someone who might be able to check on the family at the home on the edge of Compass Lake.

“All of the roads in the area where my brother was staying are impassable,” Ms. McCall said. “I have no idea what condition the house is in now.” A neighbor sent her a picture of the home, which showed the roof still on the building.

Ms. McCall said she had considered calling the police but did not want to create a panic.

“I’m just glued to my phone hoping that somebody’s post leads me to something that leads me to something that leads me to somebody that has access down there,” she said.

After a ferocious wallop of the Florida Panhandle, the tropical storm that was once Hurricane Michael slogged up through the Carolinas on Thursday, states that have had a lifetime’s worth of bad weather in the last few years. Disastrous floods swamped South Carolina in 2015, then Matthew hit in 2016, then Florence in September, now this.

“For North Carolina, Michael isn’t as bad as Florence, but it adds unwelcomed insult to injury, so we must be on alert,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement on Thursday.

Michael is taking a very different track through the Carolinas; it is headed up through the west-central parts of the states, drenching mid-state cities and mountain towns — there was a minor landslide in far western North Carolina — while to a large degree sparing the eastern stretches that were inundated a month ago.

Officials in places like Wilmington, N.C., reduced to a powerless island for days after Florence, are using terms like “inconvenience” to describe the potential effects of Michael. Meanwhile, officials in Appalachian counties are bracing for problems they had expected but largely dodged during Florence.

“The ground is already inundated, it’s been a very wet time,” said Will Holt, the emergency services director in mountainous Watauga County, N.C., where firefighters have already had to rescue people from flooded areas. “The wind is projected to pick back up as well.”

Richard Fausset reported from Panama City; Patricia Mazzei from Tallahassee, Fla.; and Alan Blinder from Atlanta. Reporting was contributed by Chris Dixon from Conway, S.C.; Melissa Gomez, Mihir Zaveri, Niraj Chokshi and Matthew Haag from New York; and Daniel Victor from Hong Kong.



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