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#HurricaneMichael Leaves Trail of Destruction as It Slams Florida’s Panhandle

PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Hurricane Michael, one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the continental United States, slammed into the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday, unleashing a trail of destruction across 200 miles that splintered houses, peeled off roofs and stirred up a terrifying surge of seawater that submerged entire neighborhoods and sent boats careening down city streets.

Initially forecast to arrive as a tropical storm, it instead amped up to a furious intensity, hitting landfall just after midday near the small seaside community of Mexico Beach, 100 miles southwest of Tallahassee, with winds topping 155 miles per hour.

Images from there showed swaths of shattered debris where houses once stood and structures inundated up to their rooftops; the streets of Panama City, farther west, were blocked by downed tree limbs and impossible tangles of power lines. Recreational vehicles, trucks and even trains were pushed over, surrounded by new lakes of water.

“Hurricane Michael is the worst storm that the Florida Panhandle has ever seen,” said Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, where 375,000 people were evacuated from the western part of the state.

It was a category two hurricane by Tuesday, and a borderline category five on Wednesday morning, packing 155mph winds.

Florida Governor Rick Scott warned of “unimaginable devastation”, saying it would be the worst storm in 100 years.

Michael reportedly killed at least 13 people in Central America: six in Honduras, four in Nicaragua and three in El Salvador.

The coastal city of Apalachicola reported a storm surge of nearly 8ft (2.5m).

“We are catching some hell,” Timothy Thomas, who rode out the storm with his wife in their home in Panama City Beach, Florida, told the Associated Press news agency.

Michael has already knocked out power to a quarter of a million homes and businesses, as power lines were smashed by falling trees.

“We are in new territory,” Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) meteorologist Dennis Feltgen wrote on Facebook.

States of emergency have been declared in all or parts of Florida, Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina.

The hurricane made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, at around 14:00 (18:00 GMT) on Wednesday, according to the NHC.

Forecasters warned parts of Florida could experience storm surges of up to 14ft (4m) and flash floods from up to 12in (30cm) of rain.

Schools and state offices in the area are to remain shut this week.

Florida has activated 3,500 National Guard troops.

At 01:00 GMT, maximum sustained winds decreased to 90mph with higher gusts, the NHC said in a bulletin.

“Michael will steadily weaken as it crosses the south-eastern United States through Thursday night, becoming a tropical storm by Thursday morning. 

“Michael is forecast to re-strengthen some Thursday night and Friday when it moves off the east coast of the United States and becomes a post-tropical cyclone on Friday,” the NHC added.

More than 300 miles of coastline were under threat, the National Weather Service said.

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