Hurricane Michael flattens beach town like ‘mother of all bombs’

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Hurricane Michael has landed on a Florida beach town like the “mother of all bombs”, almost wiping it off the map, officials say.

The storm smashed into the state’s north-west coast near Mexico Beach on Wednesday with 155mph (250km/h) winds.

The hurricane, one of the most powerful in US history, has killed 16 people, with fears the toll will rise.

Rescuers “still haven’t got to some of the hardest-hit areas”, emergency management officials say.

Mexico Beach is yet to report any fatalities, but rescuers working there have yet to carry out a thorough search of the devastated area.

Meanwhile, more than 1m homes remain without power in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia and the Carolinas.

Michael, which fell just 2mph short of a top-level category five, ripped apart entire neighbourhoods before moving out to sea by Friday morning.

The hurricane’s shrieking winds and wall of water swept beachfront homes off their foundations, snapped boats in two and knocked over 30-tonne freight rail cars like toys.

Interactive

See impact of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach

After

Mexico Beach before Hurricane Michael

Before

Mexico Beach before Hurricane Michael


Lives in pieces

By Gary O’Donoghue, BBC News, Mexico Beach

One of the first things you notice as you walk into Mexico Beach is the stillness.

No wind, almost no-one on the street, just the beating hot sun and the tossed and scattered debris – the calling card of a monstrous storm.

And then you hear faint bleeping sounds coming from all directions – a dissonant symphony of high-pitched notes that turn out to be myriad small alarms, still transmitting their warnings from the batteries which power them.

On the left, as we walk, there’s a mattress slumped at the roadside, on the right a Dean Koontz novel lies in the dirt.

A little further on, and a woman, accompanied by a friend, is sifting through the remains of her home, loading what she can salvage into the boot of a car. This was her dream retirement place she tells me – the last four years spent doing it up. “I’ll never step back in there,” she says through her tears.

The sheer force of Hurricane Michael has been well analysed, but it’s only when you see the everyday stuff of people’s lives crushed, broken, smashed to pieces, that you realise they will be living with this long after we have gone.


One weeping resident of Mexico Beach pictured on CNN struggled to even find her street, let alone her home.

Tom Bailey, the town’s former mayor, told the New York Times: “The mother of all bombs doesn’t do any more damage than this.”

Some 285 people in the community – population 1,000 – defied a mandatory evacuation order and stayed behind to ride out the storm.

An insurance firm, Karen Clark & Company, estimated Michael caused about $8bn (£6bn) in damage.

Flash flooding affected the big North Carolina cities of Charlotte and Raleigh and parts of Virginia. Police said there were five suspected tornados in Virginia.

Interactive

See the destruction near Mexico Beach City Pier

After

Mexico Beach City Pier 11 October, 2018

Before

Mexico Beach before Hurricane Michael


But it was Florida’s Panhandle that bore the brunt of the tempest. Thousands of military, police and rescue teams are converging on the area.

US Army personnel have been using heavy equipment to clear away fallen trees so rescuers can reach any trapped residents.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) crews are using dogs, drones and GPS in the search.

Flooding destroyed 1,000 homes in the small town of Port St Joe, not far from Mexico Beach.

The number of people in emergency shelters was expected to reach 20,000 across five states by Friday, said the American Red Cross.

The 16 known storm-related deaths so far are: Three in North Carolina, one in Georgia, seven in Florida and five in Virginia.

In North Carolina, one motorist was killed when a tree fell on his car, while two others died when their car crashed into a tree felled by heavy winds.

Eleven-year-old Sarah Radney, who was visiting her grandparents in Seminole County, Georgia, died when a metal carport near their home was lifted by powerful winds and slammed through their roof.

In Virginia, police said four of the deaths were due to drowning – including one man who drowned when his vehicle was caught in flash floods in Pittsylvania County.

The waters were too turbulent for rescuers to reach him, officials say.

Firefighter Lt Brad Clark died when a truck hit his fire engine on a rain-slicked road at the scene of a crash in Hanover County, Virginia, on Thursday night.

Hurricanes

A guide to the world’s deadliest storms

Hurricanes are violent storms that can bring devastation to coastal areas, threatening lives, homes and businesses.

Hurricanes develop from thunderstorms, fuelled by warm, moist air as they cross sub-tropical waters.
Warm air rises into the storm.

Air swirls in to fill the low pressure in the storm, sucking air in and upwards, reinforcing the low pressure.

The storm rotates due to the spin of the earth and energy from the warm ocean increases wind speeds as it builds.

When winds reach 119km/h (74mph), it is known as a hurricane – in the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific – or a typhoon in the Western Pacific.

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. Well, we’re about to get punched in the face.”
Florida Mayor Bob Buckhorn, ahead of Hurricane Irma (2017)

The central eye of calmer weather is surrounded by a wall of rainstorms.
This eyewall has the fastest winds below it and violent currents of air rising through it.

A mound of water piles up below the eye which is unleashed as the storm reaches land.
These storm surges can cause more damage from flooding than the winds.

“Urgent warning about the rapid rise of water on the SW FL coast with the passage of #Irma’s eye. MOVE AWAY FROM THE WATER!”
Tweet from the National Hurricane Center

The size of hurricanes is mainly measured by the Saffir-Simpson scale – other scales are used in Asia Pacific and Australia.

Winds 119-153km/h
Some minor flooding, little structural damage.
Storm surge +1.2m-1.5m

Winds 154-177km/h
Roofs and trees could be damaged.
Storm surge +1.8m-2.4m

Winds 178-208km/h
Houses suffer damage, severe flooding
Storm surge +2.7m-3.7m

Hurricane Sandy (2012) caused $71bn damage in the Caribbean and New York

Winds 209-251km/h
Some roofs destroyed and major structural damage to houses.
Storm surge +4m-5.5m

Hurricane Ike (2008) hit Caribbean islands and Louisiana and was blamed for at least 195 deaths

Winds 252km/h+
Serious damage to buildings, severe flooding further inland.
Storm surge +5.5m

Hurricane Irma (2017) caused devastation in Caribbean islands, leaving thousands homeless

“For everyone thinking they can ride this storm out, I have news for you: that will be one of the biggest mistakes you can make in your life.”
Mayor of New Orleans Ray Nagin ahead of Hurricane Gustav, 2008


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