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

Hurricane Michael leaves 'unimaginable destruction'

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Media captionAerial footage shows the destruction in Mexico Beach, Florida

Hurricane Michael has all but rubbed a Florida beach town off the map after landing like the “mother of all bombs”.

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

Over 1.4m homes had no power in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia and the Carolinas on Friday morning.

One of the most powerful hurricanes in US history, Michael has now killed at least 11 people.

Rescuers are still searching for survivors.

The storm, which fell just 2mph short of a top-level category five, ripped apart entire neighbourhoods, reducing properties to kindling and rubble.

Michael’s shrieking winds and surging seas knocked row after row of Mexico Beach beachfront homes from their foundations.

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US Coast Guard photo of Mexico Beach, Florida

Gone with the wind

By Gary O’Donoghue, BBC News, Mexico Beach, Florida

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 debris: debris everywhere, tossed and scattered – 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.

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Much of the damage in Mexico Beach, Florida was caused by the over-100mph winds.

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.

Picking our way through a mass of rubble and detritus that was once a house, we spot an American flag on the ground; in amongst it all there is also a toy car and a cracked glass plate from a microwave.

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 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.”

The storm was so powerful that it snapped boats in two and knocked over 30-ton freight rail cars like toys.

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

Linda Marquardt, 67, who hunkered down with her husband, told AP news agency: “All of my furniture was floating.

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A man in Mexico Beach, Florida walks past a home that was knocked from its foundation

“A river just started coming down the road. It was awful, and now there’s just nothing left.”

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

By early Friday morning, the storm was about 65 miles (105km) north-east of Norfolk, Virginia, with winds of 60mph, said the US National Hurricane Center.

Motorists had to be rescued on Thursday from cars trapped by high water in North Carolina, a state still reeling from last month’s Hurricane Florence.

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The aftermath in Marianna, Florida

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.

But it was Florida’s Panhandle that bore the brunt of the tempest. Thousands of National Guard troops, 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.

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Inland trees were snapped by winds in Marianna

Blackhawk helicopters buzzed overhead, adding to warzone-like scenes below.

“We prepare for the worst and hope for the best. This is obviously the worst,” Stephanie Palmer, a Fema firefighter, told Reuters news agency.

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

Mayor Bo Patterson said: “We had houses that were on one side of the street and now they’re on the other.”

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

The 11 known dead so far are one in North Carolina, one in Georgia, four in Florida and five in Virginia.

A 38-year-old motorist in North Carolina was killed when a tree fell on his car on a highway east of Statesville.

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 then slammed through their roof.

  • Are hurricanes getting worse?
  • A guide to the world’s deadliest storms

Four people were killed in Florida’s Gadsden County in storm-related deaths. One of the dead there was identified by local officials as Steven Sweet, 44, who was killed when a tree fell on his home.

On Friday, police in Virginia confirmed five deaths related to the storm. James King, 45, died after his vehicle was caught in flash floods in Pittsylvania County.

The waters were turbulent for rescuers to reach him, officials say. Three others drowned in that state.


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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