Hurricane Michael makes landfall as ‘monstrous’ Category-4 storm with life-threatening winds, catastrophic storm surges and flooding rain.
The storm made landfall northwest of Mexico Beach, Florida on Wednesday afternoon.
Its rapid intensification as it churned over the Gulf of Mexico caught many by surprise.
Coming ashore with maximum sustained winds of 250km/h, it is one of the most intense hurricanes to ever hit the US mainland, and the most powerful one on record to menace the Panhandle, a roughly 322km stretch of fishing towns, military bases and holiday beaches.
Michael battered the coastline with sideways-blown rain and crashing waves, swamped streets, bent trees, stripped away leaves and limbs and sent building debris flying.
Olivia Smith, public information officer for the Gadsden County Board of County Commissioners, said the situation was dangerous even for emergency personnel. “We’ve been very cautious with sending our first responders out right now.”
Explosions apparently caused by transformers could be heard. Michael’s menace was compounded by its relatively quick development, growing from a tropical storm to Category-4 hurricane in about 40 hours.
About 43,000 homes and businesses customers were already without power around midday.
Rainfall could reach up to a 30cm, and the life-threatening storm surge could swell to four metres.
The storm appeared to be so powerful it is expected to remain a hurricane as it moves over Georgia early Thursday.
More than 2.1 million residents of at least 20 Florida counties had been under mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders.
Many state offices, schools and universities in the area have been closed since Tuesday.
Earlier on Wednesday, Florida Governor Rick Scott said on Twitter that it was too late to evacuate the target zone and that people who had stayed should immediately seek refuge.
President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for the entire state of Florida, freeing up federal assistance to supplement state and local disaster responses.
About 2,500 National Guard troops were deployed to assist with evacuations and storm preparations, and more than 4,000 others were on standby. Some 17,000 utility restoration workers were also on call.