Hurricane Michael Closes in on Florida: Damage, Flooding Reported Along Coast as 'Time to Evacuate Has Come and Gone'

Sean Breslin
Published: October 10, 2018

As Hurricane Michael headed for a catastrophic and unprecedented Category 4 strike on the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend area Wednesday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott shared dire advice: "The time to evacuate has come and gone ... SEEK REFUGE IMMEDIATELY."

Hours before landfall, reports of damage and flooding were relayed from the coast. Residents who refused to evacuate were cut off when bridges were closed, including along St. George Island, where some called for help Wednesday morning but were told crews would not be able to reach them, a National Weather Service storm report said.

By 11 a.m. EDT, more than 17,000 homes and businesses were without power statewide, most of which were in the areas impacted by the storm, according to PowerOutage.us.

(MORE: Track Hurricane Michael)

"Unfortunately, Hurricane Michael has become a hurricane of the worst kind," FEMA Administrator Brock Long told reporters.

Wednesday morning, the Florida Highway Patrol said it would pull its troopers away from coastal areas because it would simply be too dangerous to keep them in those areas.

"We have done everything we can as far as getting the word out," said Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith told the Associated Press. "Hopefully more people will leave."

More than 375,000 people along the Gulf Coast in 22 counties have been ordered or urged to evacuate, officials said. All airports along the Florida Panhandle will be closed throughout the storm, and all flights were canceled until those hubs reopen.

In Bay County, first responders were no longer able to respond to emergencies as of Wednesday morning, but the Panama City Fire Department would continue responding to life-threatening emergency calls that came from within the city limits, the county said in a tweet.

"There’s no way to put a silver lining on this," said Jim Cantore, storm tracker for The Weather Channel, Wednesday morning while reporting live on Panama City Beach.

In Florida, Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas, states of emergency were declared as governors attempted to free up as many resources as possible for storm and emergency response.

(MORE: The Latest from the Carolinas)

Rescue teams and utility trucks descended on the region by the hundreds from all over the country as they prepared to help with the aftermath.

"We have a pit in our stomachs, too," National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said during a Wednesday morning interview on The Weather Channel.

Evacuation orders were expanded for additional areas in the path of the storm on Tuesday. Mandatory evacuations were ordered for Okaloosa Island and Holiday Isle Tuesday afternoon, and voluntary evacuations were in place for residents in flood-prone areas of Pasco County.

FloridaDisaster.org has a complete list of areas under mandatory and voluntary evacuations.

(MORE: Shelters Open as Michael Nears Gulf Coast)

"If you decide to stay in your home and a tree falls on your house or the storm surge catches you and you’re now calling for help, there’s no one that can respond to help you," warned Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan during a news conference Monday. "That’s the criticality of following directions."

Scott said more than 3,500 Florida National Guard members were activated for storm response. He added that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was ready to deploy and the Department of Transportation was monitoring the situation.

People line up for gasoline as Hurricane Michael bears down on the northern Gulf Coast of Florida, Oct. 8, 2018 outside Tallahassee, Florida.
(Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)

All bridges leading to and from coastal islands were closed Wednesday morning. With road closures expected to be a fluid situation, officials urged residents to follow updates on the Department of Transportation's Twitter page.

"This is the worst storm that the Florida Panhandle has seen in more than 100 years," said Scott.

Monday and Tuesday, residents in Tallahassee flocked to stores to stock up on food and water and to fill their vehicles with gas, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. Generators were sold out in many area stores.

At an area Costco, members were warned that they were only permitted to purchase two packs of water.

Costco customer Krista Flanagan told the Democrat the long lines and frenzy is not surprising.

"I've been here for a few years, so this is normal," Flanagan, an Ohio native, told the newspaper.

Florida State University, Florida A&M University and Tallahassee Community College all announced that campuses would be closed Tuesday through Friday. FSU opened the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center as a shelter for students and faculty.

Leon County Schools posted a tweet Monday saying all schools would be closed through the rest of the week. Bay District Schools will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday, the Panama City News Herald reported.


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