As Florida faces the onslaught of Hurricane Michael, which was upgraded to a high-end Category 4 storm on Wednesday morning, its terrifying power is already ripping apart much of the Gulf Coast as it made landfall this afternoon with winds of 155 mph.
Floridians near the Panhandle have never experienced a hurricane of this strength, according to Dr. Phil Klotzbach, a tropical scientist at Colorado State University. In records dating back to 1851, the Gulf Coast has never recorded a Category 4-plus hurricane landfall. As of now, Michael — which is also the strongest storm to hit the U.S. since Hurricane Camille in 1969 — is just shy of being recorded as a Category 5 storm.
CNN reporter Dianne Gallagher, who is on the ground in Panama City Beach, described the rain as feeling almost “like needles.”
“We’re getting some very strong bands of wind and rain that are coming through in Panama City Beach,” Gallagher told the news outlet. “This is definitely the strongest that I’ve felt. … The raindrops almost feel like little needles. … It’s so intense.”
The National Weather Service has warned residents that Michael could cause heavy rainfall that is expected to produce flash floods. The storm’s powerful winds were enough to topple a home that was in the process of being built, a terrifying video from WDRB reporter Marc Weinberg showed.
“New construction just collapsed in front of me in Panama City Beach from #hurricanemichael!” Weinberg tweeted. “It is going bad fast!”
In a conversation with President Donald Trump, FEMA Administrator Brock Long warned that other structures could be ripped apart during the storm.
“Unfortunately, this is a Gulf Coast hurricane of the worst kind,” Brock said on Wednesday in the lead up to the storm’s arrival, according to CNN. “Storm surge is going to be the worse where eye makes landfall — just to the east or south of where the eye makes landfall… Coupled with that you have over 145 mph winds. Structures built before 2001 are not designed to handle that type of wind, typically.”
More than 1,200 troops have been activated by the Florida National Guard for emergency response. President Donald Trump also declared a state of emergency for Florida, which freed up federal assistance for residents.