Hurricane Michael tears apart Florida towns, 7 dead

PORT ST. JOE, Fla., Oct 11 (Reuters) - Hurricane Michael's violence was visible on Thursday in shattered Florida coastal towns, where rows of homes were ripped from foundations and roofs were peeled off schools by the near-record-force storm blamed for seven deaths.

Michael smashed into Florida's northwest coast near the small town of Mexico Beach on Wednesday with screeching 155 mile per hour winds, pushing a wall of seawater inland.

"The wind was really tearing us apart. It was so scary you’d poo yourself,” said retiree Tom Garcia, 60, who was trapped inside his Mexico Beach home as water poured in to waist height.

He and his partner Cheri Papineau, 50, pushed on their door for an hour to stop the storm surge bursting in as their four dogs sat on top of a bed floating in their home.

24 PHOTOS
Hurricane Michael hits Florida Panhandle
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Hurricane Michael hits Florida Panhandle
A storm chaser climbs into his vehicle during the eye of Hurricane Michael to retrieve equipment after a hotel canopy collapsed in Panama City Beach, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Brian Bon inspects damages in the Panama City, Fla., downtown area after Hurricane Michael made landfall along Florida's Panhandle on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
View of damages to a McDonald's in Panama City, Fla., downtown area after Hurricane Michael made landfall along Florida's Panhandle on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
PANAMA CITY, FL - OCTOBER 10: Scott Brazer and his dog Franklin take shelter in a parking garage as Hurricane Michael passes through the area on October 10, 2018 in Panama City, Florida. The hurricane made landfall on the Florida Panhandle as a category 4 storm. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PANAMA CITY, FL - OCTOBER 10: Debris is blown down a street by Hurricane Michael on October 10, 2018 in Panama City, Florida. The hurricane made landfall on the Florida Panhandle as a category 4 storm. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Karen Haskett walks past a fence damaged by Hurricane Michael in Panama City Beach, Florida, U.S. October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
A hotel canopy collapses onto vehicles during Hurricane Michael in Panama City Beach, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
PANAMA CITY, FL - OCTOBER 10: Derik Kline takes shelter in a parking garage as Hurricane Michael passes through the area on October 10, 2018 in Panama City, Florida. The hurricane made landfall on the Florida Panhandle as a category 4 storm. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PANAMA CITY, FL - OCTOBER 10: Frank Gaetano takes shelter in a parking garage as Hurricane Michael passes through the area on October 10, 2018 in Panama City, Florida. The hurricane made landfall on the Florida Panhandle as a category 4 storm. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
View of wild waves hitting the coast early morning in Panama City Beach Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018 before the arrival of Hurricane Michael. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
PANAMA CITY, FL - OCTOBER 10: Chuck Cummins is blown around by the winds as he takes shelter in a parking garage as Hurricane Michael passes through the area on October 10, 2018 in Panama City, Florida. The hurricane made landfall on the Florida Panhandle as a category 4 storm. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Waves crash on stilt houses along the shore due to Hurricane Michael at Alligator Point in Franklin County, Florida, U.S., October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Steve Nesius
Florida has been battered by Hurricane Michael as winds of 155mph tore ashore and brought severe flooding.
Florida has been battered by Hurricane Michael as winds of 155mph tore ashore and brought severe flooding.
Michael is strongest hurricane to hit US mainland since 1992 Storm made landfall at Mexico Beach, Florida Donald Trump warns it is a "monster" Storm crosses into Georgia Watch latest path of storm in Florida Florida has been battered by Hurricane Michael as winds of 155mph tore ashore and brought severe flooding. By wind speed the Category 4 hurricane is the strongest to hit the US mainland since 1992, and the fourth strongest ever recorded. At least one person was killed after the storm came ashore in the Florida panhandle, an area of beaches, fishing towns, and military bases in the north-west of the state, since records began in 1851. Addressing Floridians from the Oval Office, Donald Trump said: "I say God bless you all. That's my message. This started off very innocently a week ago, a small storm. They said it grew into a monster." It later crossed into southwestern Georgia as a dangerous Category 3 storm, the strongest to hit that part of the state in recorded history. Michael was expected to bring a foot of rain and a storm surge of up to 14ft. More than 375,000 people along the coast had been warned to evacuate, but many stayed behind. Hurricane Michael formed off the coast of Cuba carrying major Category 4 landfall in the Florida Panhandle Credit: AP The storm made landfall near Panama City Florida, on Wednesday afternoon, ripping off roofs and bending metal railings. One Florida Panhandle man was killed by a falling tree after it crashed through the roof of his home.  “My God, it’s scary. I didn’t expect all this,” said Bill Manning, 63, a grocery clerk who fled his camper van in Panama City for safer quarters in a hotel, only to see the electricity there go out. "Panama City, I don’t know if there will be much left." Only a couple of hours after Michael came ashore, floodwaters were more than 7-1/2 feet deep near Apalachicola on Florida's Panhandle, National Hurricane Centre Director Ken Graham said. Boats sit in a storage warehouse damaged from Hurricane Michael at Treasure Island Marina in Panama City Beach Credit: Bloomberg The president declared a state of emergency for the entire state of Florida, freeing up government money for the disaster response. A total of 2,500 National Guard troops were deployed to the area, and 4,000 more were on standby, along with 17,000 workers who will help to restore power. Rick Scott, the Florida governor, said on Twitter: "This is a horrible, horrible storm. I am scared to death for people that didn't evacuate." Marco Rubio, the Florida senator, said: "There is going to be a killer, a killer storm surge in this event. Nine, 10, 11 feet. No one is going to survive that. The Gulf of Mexico is kind of like a basin of water, all being pushed up on people, and if you’re still there when that comes in, you’re going to die." Donald Trump addressing Floridians from the Oval Office: "God bless you all." Credit: Reuters Meteorologists said the unexpected way Michael had developed, its wind speeds increasing by 50 per cent in one 24-hour period, had been "jaw-dropping". In Panama City, Diane Farris, 57, was among over 1,000 people crammed into a shelter designed for half as many. She said: "I'm worried about my daughter and grandbaby. I don't know where they are." 12:36AM Man killed by falling tree Authorities say a Florida Panhandle man was killed by a falling tree as Hurricane Michael tore through the state. Anglie Hightower, Gadsden County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman, says they received a call around 6 pm, saying a tree had crashed through the roof of the man's Greensboro home and trapped him. Emergency crews were heading to the home, but downed power lines and blocked roads were making the trip difficult. Storm damage is seen after Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida Credit: AFP Florida Gov. Rick Scott says search and rescue teams are heading into the state's hardest-hit areas to help survivors. At a news conference, Mr Scott urged people to stay off roads and leave them open to first responders as they begin the work of search and rescue - and recovery. He says flash flooding and tornadoes are still possible, and says officials have heard reports of at least two tornadoes in Florida. Storm damage is seen after Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida Credit: AFP Mr Scott said at least 192,000 homes and businesses are without power in Florida, but vowed "a massive wave of response" with thousands of utility personnel fanning out to restore power, along with medical teams, law enforcement personnel and the search and rescue squads. In Georgia, meanwhile, more than 32,000 homes and businesses in Georgia were without power as parts of the state were beginning to feel the impact from the hurricane. 11:41PM Michael moves on to Georgia The National Hurricane Centre says Michael's eye has crossed from the Florida Panhandle into southwestern Georgia as a dangerous Category 3 storm - the strongest to hit that part of the state in recorded history. Maximum sustained winds of 115 mph were recorded in Seminole County, Georgia, on Wednesday evening.  According to an advisory, the storm was located 20 miles  west-northwest of Bainbridge, Georgia, and 50 miles southwest of Albany, Georgia. It was moving north-northeast at 13 mph. Heavy rainfall from #Michael could produce life-threatening flash flooding from the Florida Panhandle & Big Bend regions into portions of southeast Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas, and southeast Virginia. See the latest @NWSWPC forecasts for more details: https://t.co/3qxGBA9w6tpic.twitter.com/lsGXGrMq73— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) October 10, 2018 Dangerous storm surge continues along the coast of the Florida Panhandle. 11:21PM Air force base suffers direct hit Tyndall Air Force Base says it has suffered "extensive damage" after taking a direct hit.  Tyndall Air Force Base, located in Panama City on the coast of the Florida Panhandle, was fully evacuated Tuesday night, just before the Michael made landfall, said Air Force General Terrence O'Shaughnessy, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command. "Before the storm ever arrived we'd actually transferred command and control capability to another facility," O'Shaughnessy told Pentagon reporters. Tyndall is a major facility for protecting the air space over the continental United States, US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The four-star general added that some Florida residents may have been surprised by the rapid growth of the storm. "It really started as a tropical storm, and then it went to Category 1, then it was Category 2 and before you know it, it was Category 4," O'Shaughnessy said. "Where that becomes a factor is with the evacuation of some of the local populations," he said. "We haven't seen as robust of an evacuation response from the civilian population that we have seen in other storms." 10:49PM Donald Trump does not cancel campaign rally in Pennsylvania The president said he couldn't let down thousands of people queuing to see him. Couldn’t let these great people down. They have been lined up since last night - see you soon Pennsylvania! pic.twitter.com/jSrsmncw85— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 10, 2018   10:13PM Destruction in Panama City Storm chaser Jeff Gammons has posted pictures of damage in Panama City There’s a lot of damage in Panama City, FL. #HurricaneMichaelpic.twitter.com/c3Ik4R3ZRs— Jeff Gammons (@StormVisuals) October 10, 2018   10:11PM Bank destroyed in Panama City The First Federal Bank of Florida in #PanamaCity has been completely destroyed this afternoon by #HurricaneMichael. pic.twitter.com/F9UnVTfw1n— Justin Peden (@JustAPeden) October 10, 2018   9:12PM Michael becomes strongest US hurricane since 1992 Based on wind speed Michael was the strongest hurricane to hit the US mainland since 1992. It was the the fourth strongest ever recorded to have hit the mainland. Patricia Mulligan, a Mexico Beach resident, told CNN the hurricane was "huge". She said: "The building we're in is huge and it was shaking. A concrete building, very, very scary." 8:59PM Mexico Beach takes the brunt Here is the scene in Mexico Beach, a coastal town with a population of just over 1,000. More damage from #HurricaneMichael in Mexico Beach, Florida (source: talarico.tessa) Videos @ https://t.co/g8ObaqqcEZ… pic.twitter.com/D3KmGUtgqQ— nwsgrl (@nwsgrl) October 10, 2018   8:57PM More video of damage in Mexico Beach Pure devastation in Mexico Beach, Florida. That's where the eye of near-category 5 Hurricane #Michael passed. Courtesy of talarico.tessa on Instagram.#FLwxpic.twitter.com/H1H4mVXJSL— Tyler Sebree (@TylerABC57) October 10, 2018   8:56PM Homes destroyed or submerged to roof level in Mexico Beach Video is emerging of houses destroyed, or submerged up to their roofs in Mexico Beach, Florida, which took a direct hit. Linda Albrecht, a Mexico Beach councilwoman, said: "It's like a nightmare, you want someone to shake you and wake you up. It came on so quickly." VIDEO: Mexico Beach, Florida has been devastated by #HurricaneMichael , with many homes destroyed and storm surge up to roof level. #Michael#flwx#ExtremeWeather Credit: talarico.tessa pic.twitter.com/3lSjWpdQ0Y— Airport Webcams (@AirportWebcams) October 10, 2018   8:50PM President Trump has delivered another statement on the hurricane President Trump delivers a statement on Hurricane Michael: pic.twitter.com/Jh9SEqrZp3— The White House (@WhiteHouse) October 10, 2018   7:57PM Michael sends debris flying In Panama City debris has been sent flying. Part of a hotel collapses on a car in Panama City Credit: AP A hotel worker holds a door shut as it is hit by debris in Panama City Credit: AP   7:40PM Hurricane Michael seen from space Cameras outside the International Space Station captured this footage of Hurricane Michael just before landfall.   7:14PM Waffle House closes for Hurricane Michael A sign of the severity of the storm came as Waffle House announced it was closing 18 outlets in the area. The 24-hour chain is renowned for remaining open during terrible weather conditions, leading  experts to refer to the "Waffle House test" when assessing the seriousness of a storm. A Waffle House spokesman told Fox News: "We have closed these restaurants yesterday so our employees can be safe as Hurricane Michael comes on shore. “We have staged people and resources outside of the strike zone to come into the area after the storm passes. We will assess the damage and begin to reopen the restaurants as soon as it is safe to do so.” 6:56PM Michael makes landfall with 155mph winds Michael made landfall, the National Hurricane Center said, describing it as a "potentially catastrophic" Category 4 storm packing 155mph winds. "Hurricane Michael has made landfall just northwest of Mexico Beach, Florida," the hurricane centre said in its latest update. 6:25PM Donald Trump tells Floridians: 'God bless you all' As the eye of the storm approached the coast Donald Trump spoke from the Oval Office. He said: "I say God bless you all. That's my message because that's what it is. The storm is there. It's sort of too late to do that now from the standpoint of moving. "You have people that are stuck, they're just stuck there."
Hurricane Michael Lands In Florida With 155 MPH Winds
Joseph Howat clears a damaged fence by Hurricane Michael at his business in Panama City Beach, Florida, U.S. October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Karen Haskett picks up debris in her business' yard damaged by Hurricane Michael in Panama City Beach, Florida, U.S. October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
Waves crash on stilt houses along the shore due to Hurricane Michael at Alligator Point in Franklin County, Florida, U.S., October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Steve Nesius
A downed tree and power lines block a road during Hurricane Michael in Panama City Beach, Florida, U.S. October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
View of damages to the Presbyterian school in Panama City, Fla., downtown area after Hurricane Michael made landfall along Florida's Panhandle on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
Storm damage is seen after Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida on October 10, 2018. - Michael slammed into the Florida coast on October 10 as the most powerful storm to hit the southern US state in more than a century as officials warned it could wreak 'unimaginable devastation.' Michael made landfall as a Category 4 storm near Mexico Beach, a town about 20 miles (32kms) southeast of Panama City, around 1:00 pm Eastern time (1700 GMT), the National Hurricane Center said. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
An American flag is seen after Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida on October 10, 2018. - Michael slammed into the Florida coast on October 10 as the most powerful storm to hit the southern US state in more than a century as officials warned it could wreak 'unimaginable devastation.' Michael made landfall as a Category 4 storm near Mexico Beach, a town about 20 miles (32kms) southeast of Panama City, around 1:00 pm Eastern time (1700 GMT), the National Hurricane Center said. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Storm damage is seen after Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida on October 10, 2018. - Michael slammed into the Florida coast on October 10 as the most powerful storm to hit the southern US state in more than a century as officials warned it could wreak 'unimaginable devastation.' Michael made landfall as a Category 4 storm near Mexico Beach, a town about 20 miles (32kms) southeast of Panama City, around 1:00 pm Eastern time (1700 GMT), the National Hurricane Center said. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Video shot by CNN from a helicopter showed homes closest to the water in Mexico Beach had lost all but their foundations. A few blocks inland, about half the homes were reduced to piles of wood and siding and those still standing had suffered heavy damage.

Michael, the third most powerful hurricane ever to hit the U.S. mainland, weakened overnight to a tropical storm but marched northeast on Thursday, toppling trees with 50 mph (80 kph) winds and bringing "life threatening" flash flooding to Georgia and Virginia, the National Hurricane Center (NHC)reported.

At least seven people were killed by the storm in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina from falling trees and other hurricane-related incidents, according to state officials.

Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center in hard-hit Panama City, 20 miles (32 km) northwest of Mexico Beach, was treating some of the injured. The hospital was evacuating 130 patients as it faced challenges of running on generators after the storm knocked out power, ripped off part of its roof and smashed windows, a spokesman for the hospital's owner HCA Healthcare said in an email.

Much of Port St. Joe, 12 miles (19 km) east of Mexico Beach, was underwater after Michael hit with 155 mph winds, snapping boats in two and hurling a large ship onto the shore, residents said. Only first responders were allowed in and an 8 pm curfew was imposed.

DAMAGE 'WAY WORSE' THAN EXPECTED

In Panama City, buildings were crushed, tall pine trees were sent flying and a steeple was knocked off a church.

At the city's Jinks Middle School, the storm peeled back part of the gym roof and tore off a wall. A year ago the school welcomed students and families displaced by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

"I have had employees going to the communities where our kids live, going door to door and checking," Principal Britt Smith by phone. "I have been up since 3:30 or 4 a.m. emailing and checking on staff to see if they are safe. So far, everybody seems to be very safe."

Florida Governor Rick Scott told the Weather Channel the damage from Panama City down to Mexico Beach was "way worse than anybody ever anticipated.”

Fast-moving Michael, a Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale when it came ashore, was about 20 miles (35 km) northwest of Raleigh, North Carolina, at 5 pm EDT (1900 GMT) and set to speed up as it headed for the Atlantic coast, the NHC said.

Nearly 950,000 homes and businesses were without power in Florida, Alabama, the Carolinas and Georgia on Thursday.

The number of people in emergency shelters was expected to swell to 20,000 across five states by Friday, said Brad Kieserman of the American Red Cross.

23 PHOTOS
Preparations for Hurricane Michael
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Preparations for Hurricane Michael
Lifeguards patrol the beach in advance of Hurricane Michael in Pensacola, Florida, U.S. October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
This satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a view of Tropical Storm Michael, lower right, churning as it heads toward the Florida Panhandle, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018, at 6:52 p.m. Eastern Time. (NOAA via AP)
Culwinder Singh, top, and Sukhdeep Uppal board up the front of their store in advance of Hurricane Michael in Destin, Florida, U.S. October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
Rob Docko ties a knot while securing his boat at the St. Andrews Marina in Panama City, Fla., Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, to prepare for Hurricane Michael. (Patti Blake /News Herald via AP)
A red flag, warning of dangerous conditions, is seen on a pier in advance of Hurricane Michael in Pensacola, Florida, U.S. October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
Alexander Charnicharo fishes at the seafront in Havana as Hurricane Michael passes by western Cuba on October 8, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Capt. Steve Haeusler, left, and Wyatt Ferreira take down the sign for Haeusler's charter fishing boat "First Light" on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018. Boat captains in this fishing community were relocating their vessels to safer locations in advance of Hurricane Michael. (Devon Ravine/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP)
A woman, who refused to give her name, looks out over the water from her porch amid fears she will never see her home again as Hurricane Michael bears down on Alligator Point, Florida, U.S., October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 08: Drivers line up for gasoline as Hurricane Michael bears down on the northern Gulf coast of Florida on October 8, 2018 in Tallahassee, Florida. Michael was forecast to become a Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 120 mph when it makes landfall in the Florida panhandle later this week. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)
Commercial boats leave the Destin Harbor in Destin, Fla., on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018. Residents of this Florida panhandle city were busy Monday readying themselves for Hurricane Michael, which is predicted to make landfall somewhere around Panama City, Fla. (Devon Ravine/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP)
TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 08: Drivers line up for gasoline as Hurricane Michael bears down on the northern Gulf coast of Florida on October 8, 2018 in Tallahassee, Florida. Michael was forecast to become a Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 120 mph when it makes landfall in the Florida panhandle later this week. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)
Bobby Smith boards up the windows at Jani's Ceramics in Panama City, Fla., on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Michael. (Patti Blake/News Herald via AP)
TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 08: People line up for gasoline as Hurricane Michael bears down on the northern Gulf coast of Florida on October 8, 2018 outside Tallahassee, Florida. Michael was forecast to become a Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 120 mph when it makes landfall in the Florida panhandle later this week. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)
Aaron Smith carries a couple hundred feet of anchor rope as prepares to move his charter fishing boat "Sea Fix" from the Destin Harbor in Destin, Fla., on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018. Boat captains in this fishing community were relocating their vessels to safer locations in advance of Hurricane Michael. (Devon Ravine/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP)
Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Andrew Gillum, left, helps Eboni Sipling fill up sandbags in Tallahassee, Fla., Monday, Oct. 8, 2018. Residents in Florida's Panhandle and Big Bend are getting ready for Hurricane Michael, which is expected to make landfall by midweek. (AP Photo/Gary Fineout)
Wyatt Ferreira gets ready to move the charter fishing boat "First Light" from its mooring in the harbor in Destin, Fla., Monday, Oct. 8, 2018. Boat captains in this fishing community were relocating their vessels to safer waters in advance of Hurricane Michael. (Devon Ravine/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP)
Bobby Smith boards up the windows at Jani's Ceramics in Panama City, Fla., on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Michael. (Patti Blake/News Herald via AP)
A worker removes equipment from a home as Hurricane Michael bears down on Alligator Point, Florida, U.S., October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Justin Davis, left, and Brock Mclean board up a business in advance of Hurricane Michael in Destin, Florida, U.S. October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
A red flag, warning of dangerous conditions, is seen in advance of Hurricane Michael in Pensacola, Florida, U.S. October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
Ray Callahan pumps gasoline in advance of Hurricane Michael in Gulf Breeze, Florida, U.S. October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
A woman jogs with a dog as waves splash at the seafront in Havana, after Hurricane Michael passed in western Cuba, October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
A woman who refused to give her name, wipes a tear as she sits and packs her final few belongings and fears she will never see her home again as Hurricane Michael bears down on Alligator Point, Florida, U.S., October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
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'ROOF-HIGH' FLOODING

Michael pummeled communities across the Panhandle and turned streets into roof-high waterways.

Twenty miles (32 km) south of Mexico Beach, floodwaters were more than 7 feet (2.1 meters) deep near Apalachicola, a town of about 2,300 residents, hurricane center chief Ken Graham said. Wind damage was also evident.

"Our biggest thing is the downed lines and the downed trees," said Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson.

Brad Rippey, a meteorologist for the U.S. Agriculture Department, said Michael severely damaged cotton, timber, pecans and peanuts, causing estimated liabilities as high as $1.9 billion and affecting up to 3.7 million crop acres (1.5 million hectares).

Michael also disrupted energy operations in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico as it approached land, cutting crude oil production by more than 40 percent and natural gas output by nearly one-third as offshore platforms were evacuated.

With a low barometric pressure recorded at 919 millibars, a measure of a hurricane's force, Michael was the third strongest storm on record to hit the continental United States, behind only Hurricane Camille on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1969 and the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 in the Florida Keys.

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Panama City, Florida, Devika Krishna Kumar in Port St. Joe, Florida; Gina Cherelus and Scott DiSavino in New York; Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Gary McWilliams and Liz Hampton in Houston, Jon Herskovitz in Austin and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington Writing by Andrew Hay Editing by Frances Kerry) Editing by Frances Kerry and Bill Berkrot)

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