Michael is gone. All that’s left is to rebuild.
Less than two days after arriving on the Florida Panhandle as one of the most powerful hurricanes in U.S. history, a Category 4 monster with 155 mph winds that sheared roofs from houses and buildings and snapped trees and power poles, Michael moved off the East Coast early Friday morning and into the Atlantic Ocean as a post-tropical storm.
At least six people have been reported killed from the storm – four in Florida, one in Georgia and one in North Carolina – and nearly 1.5 million customers across five states were without power early Friday morning, according to PowerOutage.US.
Steve Sweet, 44, and Sarah Radney, 11, have been named as storm victims.
Sweet was killed in Gadsden County, Florida, near the state border with Georgia, when a tree fell into his home. Radney, who was visiting her grandparents in Seminole County, Georgia, was killed when a portable carport broke through the house and struck her in the head.
“Last night was just hell,” Radney's father, Roy, told the New York Times. “I’m an hour and a quarter away, and my daughter’s dying, and I can’t do anything about it. I can’t think of anything that is more related to hell than that.”
The final effects of Michael were being felt across parts of Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and North Carolina, where the National Hurricane Center warned of “life-threatening” flash flooding and “strong, possibly damaging winds.”
Michael’s impact across the southern Mid-Atlantic states and the Carolinas, though, will be minor compared to its trail of destruction in the Florida Panhandle. Panama City, a popular spring break retreat, and Mexico Beach, another upscale coastline spot, were nearly unrecognizable in Michael’s wake.
“We will rebuild. We will come back stronger than ever. And we will do it together,” Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum tweeted Thursday night.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott took an aerial tour of some impacted areas on Thursday and, hours later, tweeted that he and his wife, Ann, were sheltering 50 Florida Highway Patrol officers in the governor’s mansion. In another tweet, Scott thanked the grocery store chain Publix for “generously donating food for these troopers to have dinner tonight.”
Gillum was doing his part to help, too. Tampa Bay Times reporter Lawrence Mower tweeted video of Gillum and his chief of staff using a chainsaw to clear one street on Thursday.
And, Gillum’s opponent in Florida’s gubernatorial race, Ron DeSantis, used a pair of political rallies this week to collect donations for storm victims, Politico reported. The Sunshine State’s governor since 2011, Scott is not seeking re-election, instead vying for a seat on the U.S. Senate.
The recovery in Florida will take time – especially in Mexico Beach, where Michael made landfall on Wednesday afternoon.
On Twitter, Sen. Marco Rubio described the scene in Mexico Beach as “total devastation” and said drone images produced “audible gasps” at one emergency operations center.
The U.S. Coast Guard had rescued about 40 people as of 6:30 p.m. EDT Thursday and assisted 232 others, including 142 nursing home patients, according to a news release. Response teams were also working to remove roadway debris to clear paths for emergency services.
“The general public should remain cautious, even in ideal conditions, and be aware of hazards, storm surge debris, and possible flooding conditions due to the hurricane,” the Coast Guard said in the release.
Michael was just the fourth major hurricane – Category 3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale – to crash ashore on the Florida Panhandle since 1950, joining Eloise (1975), Opal (1995) and Dennis (2005).