• MICHAEL NOW: Rivers overflow, hundreds of thousands left in the dark from tropical storm


    We have a team of reporters bringing you live updates -- from the Florida coast to right here in Charlotte -- and meteorologists Steve Udelson and John Ahrens are analyzing new data just coming in on the storm and the impact it has had across our area.

    Remember, you can watch our radar anytime at home on Roku, Amazon Fire and Apple TV.

    [CLICK HERE for a running list of closings because of Michael]

    [CLICK HERE for power outage map]

    Latest Michael outlook:

    • As of 11 p.m. Thursday, Tropical Storm Michael maintained sustained winds of 50 mph
    • Michael is accelerating northeast at 25 mph after it dumped rain and brought strong wind gusts in the Charlotte area
    • The Queen City's strongest wind gust was clocked at 46 mph
    • Tropical storm warnings for the area have been lifted
    • Flood warnings were issued for many local counties, and a shelter was opened in Boone
    • The center of circulation passed just south and east of Charlotte early Thursday afternoon
    • 3-5 inches of rain fell around the Charlotte area and flooding was an issue
    • Hurricane Michael made landfall Wednesday just after 1 p.m. as a Category 4 storm near Mexico Beach, Florida
    • The National Weather Service issued multiple tornado warnings in Georgia as Michael pushed through the state, and local media report three of them may have touched down
    • The storm will quickly push out late Thursday and usher in some great weather for the weekend


    More Hurricane Content:

    >> Even when not on air, our meteorologists are tracking Michael as it pushes out of the Carolinas. Download our weather app for pinpoint impacts where you live.

    >> We'll have team coverage from all angles to get you ready for Michael's impact, on Eyewitness News.

    >> Click PLAY below to watch the latest Channel 9 forecast update on Michael

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    [SPECIAL SECTION: Tracking the Tropics]

    [PHOTOS: Mexico Beach decimated by Hurricane Michael]

    [IN PHOTOS: A timeline of Hurricane Michael's approach to the U.S.]

    [STEP-BY-STEP: How to customize your WSOCTV news app experience]

    [WATCH: Interactive Radar]

    [LINK: National Hurricane Center monitoring the tropics]

    [GIVE: Join WSOC-TV & the Red Cross to help]

    [LINK: Build a hurricane survival kit]

    [15 safety tips that could save your life during a hurricane]

    [WATCH: A look back at Hurricane Hugo 1989 PART 1]

    [WATCH: A look back at Hurricane Hugo 1989 PART 2]

    [PHOTOS: Damage and flooding from Tropical Storm Michael]

    [CLICK HERE to get caught up on Wednesday's storm coverage]

    Minute-by-minute developments on Hurricane Michael:

    10:45 p.m.

    Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools announced that all high school football games will not be played Friday night.

    District officials said the home games will be moved to either Monday or to the open November date to be determined by the schools involved.

    Officials said away football games will be rescheduled for Saturday, Monday or another mutually agreeable date.


    10 p.m.

    Duke Energy officials said they are experiencing technical difficulties with their phone line for customers reporting hazardous conditions.

    Officials said customers calling Duke Energy’s customer service lines may experience a busy signal, and they are working to resolve the issue.

    Duke Energy is telling customers to visit dukeenergyupdates.com for the most current information.


    9:30 p.m.

    Fast-moving Michael was leaving North Carolina behind with rivers rising and nearly 478,000 households in the dark.

    As of 10 p.m. Thursday, Mecklenburg County reported 47,000 power outages.



    Gov. Roy Cooper's office said the power outages were concentrated in central North Carolina's Piedmont region, as trees and power lines toppled under the pressure of winds of up to 60 mph.

    Heavy rains dumped up to 7 inches in some areas, making flooding a serious threat.

    Flash flooding was snarling the state's two largest cities, Charlotte and Raleigh, as well as the university town of Chapel Hill. Dozens of swift water rescues and evacuations were needed in the Piedmont region as well as the state's mountains and foothills.

    In east Charlotte, a tree completed uprooted and brought down power lines.

    "It's a pretty major catastrophe down there. There were a lot of lines down,” said Shelton Drum, who owns a comic book store on Pecan Avenue.

    Widespread power outages impacting some nearby businesses.

    "We stayed open until just a few minutes ago. We had some battery-powered lights, but they just weren't enough,” Drum said.

    Other residents in the area said they have been without power for hours, but have found ways to pass the time.

    "I was going to drive around, charge my phone in the car and look for a power company to see if they can tell me something,” resident Cardon Ruchti said.

    "I'm just glad that the power company isn't out here right now, cause sending them in is a death trap,” resident Nathan Gaddy said. “There's so many wires hanging out."

    Earlier Thursday, Chopper 9 Skyzoom saw some crews out beginning to repair downed power lines.

    Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools report that more than 30 of its schools are also without power, so officials canceled classes for Friday.


    8:55 p.m.

    Charlotte Water crews responded to a wastewater overflow in the Catawba River Watershed.

    Heavy rains caused the overflow near Sadie Drive on Thursday. Officials said an estimated 2,330 gallons reached Four Mile Creek.



    “A majority of wastewater overflows can be prevented with your help,” said Cam Coley, spokesperson at Charlotte Water. “Anything put in plumbing or a manhole can cause wastewater overflows, spilling raw sewage into your street, your creek or even inside your own home. Even products labeled as ‘flushable’ do not breakdown in the sewer system and can contribute to clogging.”


    8:20 p.m.

    After Tropical Storm left some destruction across the area, several school districts canceled Friday classes or called for a two-hour delay.

    Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools canceled classes, while Cabarrus County, Lincoln County, Chesterfield County, Statesville-Iredell, Stanly County, Rowan-Salisbury and Union County schools will be on a 2-hour delay.

    Anson County will be on a 3-hour delay. Kannapolis Schools also canceled Friday classes.

    CMS officials said 32 schools are without power.


    8:10 p.m.

    An insurance company that produces models for catastrophes is estimating Hurricane Michael caused about $8 billion in insured losses.

    Boston-based Karen Clark & Company released the estimate Thursday. It includes the privately insured wind and storm surge damage to residential, commercial and industrial properties and automobiles. The figure does not include losses covered by the National Flood Insurance Program.

    Michael made landfall as a 155 mph, Category 4 storm Wednesday afternoon in Mexico Beach, Florida. The hurricane left a path of destruction through the Florida Panhandle and entered Georgia as a Category 3 storm.

    KCC estimates that nearly half of insured loss from Michael occurred in Florida's Bay and Gulf counties. Total damages from storm surge are estimated to be $3.7 billion, of which about ten percent will be insured.


    7:10 p.m.

    Walmart, Sam's Club and the Walmart Foundation are donation $1.5 million and in-kind support for relief and recovery from Hurricane Michael.

    A shootout outside a metro Atlanta Walmart store was capturd on surveillance video and may have been linked to a road rage incident in the parking lot. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

    In addition, $1 million from the Walmart 2018 Hurricane Relief Fund held at Foundation for the Carolinas will support Red Cross efforts for those most impacted in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.  

    "Our friends and family in the Florida Panhandle are experiencing tremendous loss as a result of this catastrophic storm,” said Dan Bartlett, executive vice president of corporate affairs for Walmart. “We are actively supporting local relief efforts and will continue to help communities as they recover.”  


    6:30 p.m.

    Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will be closed for all students and staff on Friday, school officials said.



    School officials said in a statement, "Our community has been hit hard by high winds, heavy rain, downed trees and power lines from Hurricane Michael. According to Duke Energy officials, 32 schools in neighborhoods across the district and nearly 82,000 residents across our community are without lights, refrigeration, heating and cooling due to power loss.


    5:30 p.m.

    Iredell-Statesville Schools will operate on a two-hour delay for students on Friday.

    Officials posted on Facebook that there are multiple downed trees in the county, thousands without power and bridges and roads washed out. 

    The post said the transportation department will work on rerouting buses when necessary.

    [CLICK HERE for a running list of closings because of Michael]


    5:20 p.m.

    Leaders with Union County Public Schools say they will make a decision about the district's schedule by 8:30 p.m. Thursday. 

    Officials say 11 schools are without power.




    5 p.m.

    Earlier Thursday, North Carolina authorities said a driver has died after a tree fell on his car as Michael's wind and rain lashed the state.

    It happened in Iredell County, north of Charlotte, where authorities have reported strong winds and numerous roads closed by flash flooding.

    The storm came ashore on Florida's Gulf coast as a Category 4 hurricane before weakening to tropical storm status over Georgia.


    4:30 p.m.

    The North Carolina Department of Transportation says several roads are closed in Anson, Cabarrus, Stanly and Union counties due to flooding or downed trees.

    [Click here for latest road conditions]




    4:05 p.m.

    Crews were on scene of a washed out road in Statesville.

    Chopper 9 Skyzoom flew over Bethlehem Road and could see the damage the rising waters caused.


    4 p.m.

    Duke Energy is reporting more than 260,000 customers without power across North Carolina.

    More than 51,000 of those are in Mecklenburg County.


    3:20 p.m.

    Officials confirmed a man was killed when a tree toppled on his car while he was driving in Iredell County.

    Officials identified the man as 38-year-old Brian Travis Cooper.

    Mocksville Highway at Songbird Drive is shut down for the investigation.


    2:30 p.m.

    Charlotte Area Transit System says the LYNX Blue Line light rail service has been suspended because of damage from downed trees.

    Around 6:30 p.m., CATS officials said the LYNX Blue Line light rail service is currently back running from I-485 to New Bern stations and 36th Street to UNC Charlotte stations. A bus bridge is in place from New Bern to 36th Street stations.



    2:15 p.m.

    Forecasters say Tropical Storm Michael is speeding over the Carolinas on its way to the Atlantic Ocean.

    The National Hurricane Center says the storm is moving northeast at 23 mph with top sustained winds have dropped to 50 mph.

    Forecasters say Michael's heavy rains are causing flash flooding across parts of North Carolina and southern Virginia. Up to 7 inches of rain could fall in some parts of the the two states.

    At 2 p.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 25 miles south of Greensboro, North Carolina. It was expected to emerge over the ocean Thursday night.


    2 p.m.

    Gastonia police say about 10 trees have come down in the area.

    U.S. 321 is shut down between Garrison Boulevard and Jackson Road due to downed trees and power lines.




    1:30 p.m.

    Mecklenburg County's Park and Recreation Department told Channel 9 it's in the process of closing all parks because of Tropical Storm Michael.



    12:40 p.m.

    The western part of North Carolina is being lashed by bands of rain from Hurricane Michael, causing some water rescues and a landslide that closed a road.

    Gov. Roy Cooper urged all residents to be on alert as the storm blows through the state. He said officials were monitoring several rivers for potential flooding in the central, eastern and western parts of the state, though not the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Florence last month.

    In western North Carolina's Henderson County, emergency services director Jimmy Brissie said first responders have been busy since the early morning helping people in cars trapped in high water and residents who need help leaving low-lying areas.

    He said about 20 people were pulled out of neighborhoods inundated by flash flooding. He said he's not aware of any injuries.

    McDowell County emergency services director Adrienne Jones said a landslide closed a road, and a swift-water rescue crew pulled a man to safety in Buncombe County. In Asheville, two people in a hammock who found themselves surrounded by floodwater were pulled onto an inflatable boat.


    12:15 p.m.

    Experts at the National Hurricane Center say Hurricane Michael's devastating storm surge reached as high as 14 feet in some areas of Florida's Gulf coast.

    The center's storm surge unit said Thursday that peak storm surge ranged from 9 feet to 14 feet from Mexico Beach east through Apalachee Bay.



    Officials said the highest storm surge hit near Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe, based on available observations and post-landfall models.

    Officials had been warning that the surge of water pushed by the storm could be as serious as the hurricane's punishing winds. The threat of the storm prompted local officials to order mandatory evacuations in several Florida coastal counties.




    11:55 a.m.

    A coroner has identified the 11-year-old girl who was killed as Hurricane Michael blew through south Georgia.

    Seminole County coroner Chad Smith on Thursday identified the girl as Sarah Radney.

    Smith said an official cause of death had not been determined but that it would likely be massive blunt force trauma.

    Seminole County Emergency Management Agency director Travis Brooks said strong winds picked up a portable carport Wednesday and dropped it down on the roof of the home where the girl was inside. One of the carport's legs punctured the roof and hit the girl in the head.

    Seminole County is in the southwest corner of Georgia.


    11:25 a.m.

    Tropical Storm Michael is drenching the Carolinas with heavy rains as it heads toward the Atlantic Ocean.

    The National Hurricane Center says the storm's top sustained winds have dropped to 50 mph.



    At 11 a.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 35 miles south-southeast of Charlotte, North Carolina. It was expected to emerge over the ocean Thursday night.

    Forecasters say Michael remains a large weather system, with tropical storm-force winds extending up to 185 miles from its center.

    Michael could drop up to 7 inches over parts of the Carolinas and southeastern Virginia.


    11:20 a.m.

    Most hurricanes quickly fall apart as they move over land. Not Michael. The third-most powerful hurricane on record to hit the U.S. mainland carved a path of destruction for roughly 200 miles from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico before its top sustained winds dropped to tropical-storm strength.

    The National Hurricane Center says Michael did not lose its hurricane status until early Thursday, when its winds finally dropped below 74 mph near Browndale in central Georgia.



    Based on its internal barometric pressure, Michael was the third most powerful hurricane to make landfall, behind the unnamed Labor Day storm of 1935 and Camille in 1969. Based on wind speed, it was the fourth-strongest, behind the Labor Day storm, Camille and Andrew in 1992.

    Michael had top sustained winds of 155 mph when it hit Mexico Beach on Wednesday.

    It's down to a tropical storm now as it moves over the Carolinas, but forecasters expect it to strengthen again once it moves over the Atlantic.


    11:15 a.m.

    South Carolina is getting heavy rains and gusty winds as Tropical Storm Michael speeds through.

    But officials aren't seeing anything like the damage inflicted by Hurricane Florence last month.



    Authorities say about 150,000 South Carolina customers are without power. Trees are downed and there's minor flash flooding, including standing water that closed ramps onto Interstates 85 and 385 in Greenville.

    Waves were hitting the top of the Charleston Battery, but the city wasn't reporting the kind of widespread flooding it gets several times a year.



    The National Weather Service says winds along the coast gusted to nearly 60 mph and parts of Chesterfield County already had 4 to 6 inches of rain with more to come. Parts of the county saw more than 20 inches of rain in Florence. Areas to the east that were hit even harder by Florence's flooding are reporting much less rain from Michael.


    11:05 a.m.

    An emergency shelter will open in Boone at Alliance Bible Fellowship at noon because of severe flooding. Pets are allowed but must be in crates.

    An Areal Flood Warning for Burke County is in place until 4 p.m.



    11 a.m.

    Gov. Rick Scott says people from Florida's Panhandle to the Big Bend woke up to "unimaginable destruction." He says Hurricane Michael have changed lives forever, and "many families have lost everything." He says "this hurricane was an absolute monster."

    Florida officials also said Florida's big mental hospital in Chattahoochee is "entirely cut off" by land, so they're dropping food and supplies in from the air. The mental hospital has a section that houses the criminally insane, but they say the facility itself has not been breached.



    In Panama City, Bay County emergency management officials say most roads remained blocked by water or debris Thursday morning, so survivors in the should "stay put and standby."


    10:50 a.m.

    Alexander, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba and Iredell counties are all under a Flash Flood Warning until  3:15 p.m. Lincoln County is under the same warning until 4 p.m.




    10:15 a.m.

    In Caldwell County, Brown Mountain Beach Road is closed from the entrance up to Craig Creek Road due to Wilson Creek beginning to flood. Caldwell County Schools says that Collettsville Elementary School will be closed as of 10:30 a.m. due to the potential of more flooding.

    In Watauga County, due to increased flooding and road closures around the county, Watauga County Schools will be dismissing early. K-8 schools will dismiss at 10:30 a.m., while Watauga High School will dismiss at 11 a.m. Afterschool will not operate today.

    A Flash Flood Warning for Watauga County is in place until 4:30 p.m.




    10 a.m.

    North Tryon Street under the 16th Street Bridge -- which is notorious for flooding -- was seeing high flood waters again Thursday morning. Emergency crews were assisting several stranded motorists.




    9:50 a.m.

    Rain continues to fall around Charlotte, with the heaviest rainfall happening to the south and east of the Queen City.




    9:30 a.m.

    Waves of search and rescue teams are fanning out across the Florida Panhandle looking for people who rode out Hurricane Michael.

    The U.S. Coast Guard in Mobile, Alabama, says its crews have rescued 27 people, mostly from damaged homes.

    Petty Officer Third Class Ronald Hodges told The Associated Press that a Jayhawk rescue helicopter crew pulled nine people from a bathroom of their Panama City home after their roof collapsed Wednesday afternoon.

    Crews were out early Thursday searching for more victims. He says the number of rescues remains fluid and there were no reports of deaths so far from the Coast Guard's missions.

    Florida emergency officials say they're starting to transfer patients out of damaged health care facilities. They're also trying to figure out the extent of damage to roads and bridges. A huge swath of Interstate 10, the main east-west route near the coast, is blocked off due to damage.


    9:15 a.m.

    Authorities are correcting early reports about the death of an 11-year-old girl as Hurricane Michael blew over southwest Georgia.

    Seminole County Emergency Management Agency director Travis Brooks said it wasn't a tree but a carport that hit her home and killed her.

    He said strong winds picked up a portable carport Wednesday and dropped it down on the roof. One of the carport's legs punctured the roof and hit the 11-year-old girl in the head.

    Brooks said he wasn't able to get out much overnight to fully assess the damage in the county, because downed power lines and trees made roads impassable in the darkness. But he said the sheriff told him it looked like a bomb had gone off.




    8:45 a.m.

    Michael is now centered over South Carolina and is still a tropical storm after a long land journey over the southeastern United States.

    In Charlotte, creeks were rising and were expected to flood soon.



    A day after slamming into Florida's Gulf Coast as a strong Category 4 hurricane, Michael still had top sustained winds of 50 mph and higher gusts, with tropical storm-force winds reaching 160 miles from its center.

    As of 8 a.m. Thursday, the storm was about 40 miles west-northwest of Columbia, South Carolina, moving northeast at 21 mph. It's expected to keep blowing across central and eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia before crossing into the Atlantic Ocean by late Thursday or early Friday.

    And at that point, forecasters expect Michael to strengthen again over open water.




    8:40 a.m.

    A Flash Flood Warning for Avery County and Caldwell County is in effect until 1:45 p.m.




    8:20 a.m.

    Charlotte Douglas International Airport is open and operational.




    7:55 a.m.

    Iredell-Statesville school district officials have decided to cancel school today -- after school buses had already picked up students to bring them to school across the county.




    7:30 a.m.

    Fires still burned in the early morning darkness the day after Hurricane Michael made landfall in Mexico Beach, a Florida Gulf Coast beach town that doesn't usually get much attention. Michael pushed a 10-foot storm surge and 155 mph winds, just shy of a Category 5 hurricane, and Mexico Beach got the worst of it.

    A reporter and photojournalist from the Tampa Bay Times ventured there in the dark early Thursday, finding the town of about 1,000 almost impassable. They reported seeing many destroyed homes, some with staircases leading to doors suspended 10 feet in the air with nothing on the other side, entire structures washed away. Refrigerators and toilets and piles of soggy furniture are strewn across properties.

    And amid the wreckage, the crew spotted survivors -- people who rode out the storm. One couple was looking for their mother's portable oxygen machine. Another man was shining a flashlight from his balcony as alarms sounded and fires burned.




    6:50 a.m.

    Duke Energy is reporting nearly 700 power outages in Mecklenburg County. Also hundreds of outages reported in Rowan and Chester County.




    6:35 a.m.

    Rain bands from Tropical Storm Michael have arrived in the Charlotte area, and we've seen our first 30 mph wind gusts in Lancaster County this morning.




    6 a.m

    UNC Charlotte has canceled classes through noon Thursday as Tropical Storm Michael approaches the Charlotte area.

    Lincoln County, Rowan-Salisbury, Cabarrus County, Gaston County, Cleveland County, Mooresville Graded, Iredell-Statesville and Kannapolis school districts have also canceled classes today.




    5:45 a.m.

    Boone-based Samaritan's Purse is keeping a close eye on Michael as it pushes toward the Carolinas. The organization is preparing equipment and other supplies, and have already been in touch with churches in the storm's path.




    5 a.m.

    Tropical Storm Michael continues to weaken as it over eastern Georgia as it makes its way toward the Carolinas. Early Thursday, the eye of Michael was about 90 miles northeast of Macon, Georgia and 45 miles west of Augusta. The storm's maximum sustained winds have decreased to 50 mph and it was moving to the northeast at 21 mph.



    The National Hurricane Center says the core of Michael will move across eastern Georgia into Central South Carolina on Thursday morning. It will then move across portions of central and eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia into the Atlantic Ocean by late Thursday or early Friday.


    4:45 a.m.

    Cabarrus County has joined a long list of local school districts that will be closed Thursday due to Tropical Storm Michael.

    [CLICK HERE for a running list of closings because of Michael]




    4 a.m.

    Initial rain bands from Tropical Storm Michael are beginning to work their way into the Charlotte area.

    Tropical storm warnings are in effect for all local counties.




    2 a.m.

    An official with an emergency management agency says Tropical Storm Michael is responsible for a child's death in Georgia.

    News outlets report Seminole County Emergency Management Agency Director Travis Brooks says someone called 911 as the storm passed through the area and reported the death. WMAZ-TV quotes Brooks as saying a tree fell onto a home Wednesday afternoon and killed an 11-year-old girl. Authorities have not released her identity.

    Brooks says responding crews reached the home after nightfall due to clear downed power lines, poles and trees.



    Early Thursday, the eye of Michael was about 25 miles east of Macon in central Georgia. The storm had top sustained winds of 60 mph and was moving to the northeast at 20 mph.

    The National Hurricane Center says the core of Michael will move across central and eastern Georgia Thursday morning, and then over southern and central South Carolina later in the day.


    12 a.m.

    Hurricane Michael's battering waves swamped streets and docks and shrieking winds splintered trees and rooftops. The most powerful hurricane on record to hit Florida's Panhandle left widespread destruction and wasn't finished Thursday as it crossed Georgia toward the Carolinas, a region still reeling from epic flooding in Hurricane Florence.

    Authorities say at least one person died, a man hit by a falling tree on a Panhandle home.

    The supercharged storm crashed ashore Wednesday afternoon amid beach resorts and coastal communities, a Category 4 monster packing 155 mph winds. Downgraded to a tropical storm over south Georgia, it was weakening by the hour. But it's still menacing the Southeast with heavy rains, winds and a threat of spinoff tornadoes.



    Deadly Michael downgraded to tropical storm

    The most powerful hurricane on record to hit Florida's Panhandle left wide destruction and at least two people dead and wasn't nearly finished Thursday as it crossed Georgia, now as a tropical storm, toward the Carolinas, that are still reeling from epic flooding by Hurricane Florence.

    A day after the supercharged storm crashed ashore amid white sand beaches, fishing towns and military bases, Michael was no longer a Category 4 monster packing 155 mph winds. As the tropical storm continued to weaken it was still menacing the Southeast with heavy rains, blustery winds and possible spinoff tornadoes.

    Authorities said at least two people have died, a man killed by a tree falling on a Panhandle home and according to WMAZ-TV, an 11-year-old girl was also killed by a tree falling on a home in southwest Georgia. Search and rescue crews were expected to escalate efforts to reach hardest-hit areas and check for anyone trapped or injured in the storm debris.

    The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the eye of Michael was about 25 miles east of Macon in central Georgia at 2 a.m. Thursday. The storm had top sustained winds of 60 mph and was moving to the northeast at 20 mph.

    After daylight Thursday residents of north Florida would just be beginning to take stock of the enormity of the disaster.

    Damage in Panama City near where Michael came ashore Wednesday afternoon was so extensive that broken and uprooted trees and downed power lines lay nearly everywhere. Roofs were peeled away, sent airborne, and homes were split open by fallen trees. Twisted street signs lay on the ground. Palm trees whipped wildly in the winds. More than 380,000 homes and businesses were without power at the height of the storm.

    Vance Beu, 29, was staying with his mother at her home, Spring Gate Apartments, a complex of single-story wood frame buildings where they piled up mattresses around themselves for protection. A pine tree punched a hole in their roof and his ears even popped when the barometric pressure went lower. The roar of the winds, he said, sounded like a jet engine.

    "It was terrifying, honestly. There was a lot of noise. We thought the windows were going to break at any time," Beu said.

    Sally Crown rode out Michael on the Florida Panhandle thinking at first that the worst damage was the many trees downed in her yard. But after the storm passed, she emerged to check on the cafe she manages and discovered a scene of breathtaking destruction.

    "It's absolutely horrendous. Catastrophic," Crown said. "There's flooding. Boats on the highway. A house on the highway. Houses that have been there forever are just shattered."

    A Panhandle man was killed by a tree that toppled on a home, Gadsden County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Anglie Hightower said. But she added emergency crews trying to reach the home were hampered by downed trees and debris blocking roadways. The debris was a problem in many coastal communities and still hundreds of thousands of people were also left without power.

    Gov. Rick Scott announced afterward that thousands of law enforcement officers, utility crews and search and rescue teams would now go into recovery mode. He said "aggressive" search and rescue efforts would get underway.

    "Hurricane Michael cannot break Florida," Scott vowed.

    Michael sprang quickly from a weekend tropical depression, going from a Category 2 on Tuesday to a Category 4 by the time it came ashore. It forced more than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast to evacuate as it gained strength quickly while crossing the eastern Gulf of Mexico toward north Florida. It moved so fast that people didn't' have much time to prepare, and emergency authorities lamented that many ignored the warnings and seemed to think they could ride it out.

    In Panama City, plywood and metal flew off the front of a Holiday Inn Express. Part of the awning fell and shattered the glass front door of the hotel, and the rest of the awning wound up on vehicles parked below it.

    "Oh my God, what are we seeing?" said evacuee Rachel Franklin, her mouth hanging open.

    Based on its internal barometric pressure, Michael was the third most powerful hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland, behind the unnamed Labor Day storm of 1935 and Camille in 1969. Based on wind speed, it was the fourth-strongest, behind the Labor Day storm, Camille and Andrew in 1992.

    It also brought the dangers of a life-threatening storm surge.

    In Mexico Beach, population 1,000, the storm shattered homes, leaving floating piles of lumber. The lead-gray water was so high that roofs were about all that could be seen of many homes.

    Hours earlier, meteorologists watched satellite imagery in complete awe as the storm intensified.

    "We are in new territory," National Hurricane Center Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen wrote on Facebook. "The historical record, going back to 1851, finds no Category 4 hurricane ever hitting the Florida panhandle."

    The storm is likely to fire up the debate over global warming. Scientists say global warming is responsible for more intense and more frequent extreme weather, such as storms, droughts, floods and fires. But without extensive study, they cannot directly link a single weather event to the changing climate.

    After Michael left the Panhandle late Wednesday, Kaylee O'Brien was crying as she sorted through the remains of the apartment she shared with three roommates at Whispering Pines apartments, where the smell of broken pine trees was thick in the air. Four pine trees had crashed through the roof of her apartment, nearly hitting two people.

    Her biggest worry: finding her missing 1-year-old Siamese cat, Molly.

    "We haven't seen her since the tree hit the den. She's my baby," a distraught O'Brien said, her face wet with tears.

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