Storm menaces Florida Panhandle
Hurricane Michael to blow ashore Wednesday
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A fast and furious Hurricane Michael sped toward the Florida Panhandle on Tuesday with 120 mph winds and a potential storm surge of 13 feet, giving tens of thousands of people precious little time to get out or board up.
Drawing energy from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the storm strengthened rapidly into a potentially devastating Category 3 by evening. It was expected to blow ashore around midday Wednesday near Panama City Beach, along a lightly populated stretch of fishing villages and white-sand spring-break beaches.
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.
“We don’t know if it’s going to wipe out our house or not,” Jason McDonald, of Panama City, said as he and his wife drove north into Alabama with their two children, ages 5 and 7. “We want to get them out of the way.”
Coastal residents rushed to board up their homes and stock up on bottled water and other supplies.
As of 5 p.m. EDT, Michael was 295 miles south of Panama City, speeding northward at 12 mph. Hurricane-force winds extended outward 45 miles from its center.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned it was a “monstrous hurricane,” and his Democratic opponent for the Senate, Sen. 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,” Nelson said on CNN.
But some officials were worried by what they weren’t seeing — a rush of evacuees.
“I am not seeing the level of traffic on the roadways that I would expect when we’ve called for the evacuation of 75 percent of this county,” Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said.
Aja Kemp, 36, planned to stay in her mobile home in Crawfordville. She worked all night stocking shelves at a big-box store that was closing later Tuesday, then got to work securing her yard.
Kemp said the bill totaled over $800 when she and her family fled Hurricane Irma’s uncertain path last year.
“I just can’t bring myself to spend that much money,” she said. “We’ve got supplies to last us a week. Plenty of water. I made sure we’ve got clean clothes. We got everything tied down.”