Hurricane Michael roared into the heart of Florida’s Panhandle on Wednesday as a historic storm. The third-strongest hurricane to ever make landfall in the U.S. left a swath of destruction that’s now becoming clear as the storm surge recedes and the howling winds subside.
The storm isn’t done yet, having moved through Georgia and onto the Florence-afflicted Carolinas as a tropical storm on Thursday morning. But the most shocking damage is along Florida’s Gulf Coast, where Category 4 winds tore up buildings, a wall of water inundated communities, and the combination of wind and water tossed train cars like children’s toys.
The storm intensified all the way to landfall in Mexico Beach, but its wind field—tropical storm-force winds stretched 200 miles from the core at the storm’s fiercest—ensured much of the Panhandle was hit hard. The National Hurricane Center describes the damage Category 4 winds can bring this way:
“Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”
That Panhandle unfortunately shows all signs of that type of damage from denuded trees to blown out buildings. The storm is already drawing comparisons to Hurricane Andrew, an infamous 1992 hurricane that wiped entire communities off the map.
Many of the counties afflicted by Michael are among the state’s poorest, and as Earther wrote yesterday, mobile homes and hurricanes don’t mix. That means the people with the least means to recover after a storm are almost certainly among those that were hardest hit.
Here are some of the early scenes emerging from the region that will be recovering for months if not longer.