Michael Smashes Houses in Florida’s Panhandle, and More Damage is Emerging

In the decimated city of Callaway, pieces of obliterated houses litter rain-drenched roads. Every telephone pole in sight has snapped in half.

“It’s very hard to explain,” said Jason Gunderson, a member of the Cajun Navy rescue group. “The only way I can explain it, through my eyeballs, is a Third World country war zone.”

Similar scenes are emerging across the Florida Panhandle, where Hurricane Michael left more than 350,000 without power and entire neighborhoods in ruins after hitting Wednesday afternoon near Mexico Beach as a dangerous Category 4 storm.

“It feels like a nightmare,” Mexico Beach Councilwoman Linda Albrecht said of the catastrophic damage in her town. “Somebody needs to come up and shake you and wake you up.”

The storm has already killed a man in Florida and a girl in Georgia. And as rescue workers sift through the debris Thursday, many fear the death toll will rise.

After slamming Florida and lashing Georgia, Michael is now threatening the storm-weary Carolinas. Tornadoes, dangerous winds and more flooding are possible in many of the same areas still recovering from Hurricane Florence.

Track the storm

Michael is expected to dump 4 to 7 inches of rain from eastern Georgia to the southern mid-Atlantic and up to 9 inches of rain in parts of North Carolina and Virginia, the National Hurricane Center said.

Key developments

 Interstate 10 is closed: All lanes of I-10 between mile marker 85 to mile marker 166 in Florida are closed due to debris, Florida authorities said Thursday.

• Death toll rises: At least two people have been killed in storm-related incidents since Wednesday.

• No power, no internet: More than 350,000 customers remain without electricity in Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

• Where is Michael? As of Thursday morning, the storm is centered about 40 miles west-northwest of Columbia, South Carolina, and is headed northeast.

• Looters arrested: Arrests have been made after reports of looting in Bay County, Florida, US Rep. Neal Dunn said.

‘I just need to know he’s OK’

Uprooted trees, downed power poles and limited communications have greatly hindered first responders and families trying to reach residents in need.

Megan McCall says her brother Jeff and his family were riding out the storm in the Panhandle. No one has heard from them since Wednesday afternoon.

Her brother was able to tell a friend that his home was starting to get cracks in the walls and water was rushing in Wednesday. A neighbor told McCall that all the docks in the area were destroyed and many people are stuck in their homes as the roads have been blocked with debris.

“I just need to know he’s OK,” McCall said. “If the house and the cars are destroyed they can be replaced, but my niece needs her dad — and as much as I sometimes can’t stand him, I would do anything to just know he’s OK.”

In Wakulla County, the sheriff’s office made a list of people who decided to ride out the storm and will check on them Thursday, sheriff’s captain Chris Savary said.

Fallen debris kill 2 people

In Seminole County, Georgia, a metal carport hoisted by the wind crashed through a roof, hitting the girl’s head, the county’s emergency management director. Travis Brooks said.

Several hours passed before emergency officials could reach the unincorporated area where the girl was killed, Brooks said.

And in Greensboro, Florida, a man died Wednesday after a tree fell on a home, the local sheriff’s office said.

Brock Long, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said he’s worried the number of deaths will rise Thursday.

“Hopefully they don’t, but those numbers could climb as search and rescue teams get out,” Long said.

‘It looks like a tornado came through here’

On the Florida Panhandle, wind gusts blew off roofs and knocked down brick walls.

Rob Golding opened up his Panama City home to some of his neighbors whose homes were heavily damaged. Some were inside their homes when they saw their roofs fly away, he said.

“My home was built in 1962 (and) is the only one with a solid roof left,” Golding said. “My mother, who passed two years ago, she put a lot of money in this house. I asked her to keep her hands on it today, and she did.”

“It looks like a tornado came through here,” he said.

Military families are among the thousands who evacuated before the storm and won’t be able to return home immediately.

Officials at the Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City said dozens of trees and power lines went down, and several buildings lost their roofs across the military base. They said it could take weeks before it’s safe for personnel and their families to return.

Effect of climate change

Michael’s strength may reflect the effect of climate change on storms. The planet has warmed significantly over the past several decades, causing changes in the environment.

Human-caused greenhouse gases in the atmosphere create an energy imbalance, with more than 90% of remaining heat trapped by the gases going into the oceans, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. There’s evidence of higher sea surface temperature and atmospheric moisture, experts say.

While we might not get more storms in a warmer climate, most studies show storms will get stronger and produce more rain. Storm surge is worse now than it was 100 years ago, thanks to the rise in sea levels.

According to Climate Central, a scientific research organization, the coming decades are expected to bring hurricanes that intensify more rapidly, should there be no change in the rate of greenhouse gas emissions.