‘Michael’ mauls Florida, Georgia

Shipping back to shore The Oceanis ship is grounded by a tidal surge at the Port St. Joe Marina after Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle with terrifying winds of 155 mph, splintering homes and submerging neighborhoods. AP

PANAMA CITY — Hurricane Michael claimed at least two lives after roaring ashore in Florida and Georgia on Wednesday, flooding homes and streets and toppling trees and power lines in the Gulf of Mexico beachfront area where it made landfall as a raging Category 4 storm.

Florida officials said Michael, packing winds of 155 miles per hour, was the most powerful storm to hit the state’s northern Panhandle area in more than a century.

Michael had weakened to a Category 1, with maximum winds of 90 mph as of 8 p.m. Eastern time, but that still left it an extremely dangerous storm.

Pictures and video from Mexico Beach — a community of about 1,000 people where Michael made landfall around 1 p.m. Eastern time — showed scenes of devastation, with houses floating in flooded streets, some ripped from their foundations and missing roofs.

Roads were filled with piles of floating debris.

After being battered for nearly three hours by strong winds and heavy rains, roads in Panama City were virtually impassable and trees, satellite dishes and traffic lights lay in the streets.Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long said Michael was the most intense hurricane to strike the Florida Panhandle since 1851.

Hundreds of thousands of people were ordered to evacuate their homes and the governor told residents who had not done so to “hunker down and be careful.”

General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command, said some Florida residents may have been surprised by the rapid growth of the storm.

“It really started as a tropical storm, and then it went to Category 1, then it was Category 2 and before you know it, it was Category 4,” O’Shaughnessy said.

As it came ashore, Michael was just shy of a Category 5 — defined as a storm packing top sustained wind speeds of 157 mph or above.

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