Michael weakens to tropical storm after day of havoc in Florida

Greg Milam in Florida. Pic Sky News and WeatherNation

Image Greg Milam said the hurricane was an intense experience. Pic WeatherNation

Hurricane Michael hit the Florida Panhandle with frightening fury.

Michael caused destruction in western Cuba and parts of Central America before striking the United States.

News4Jax reporter Jim Piggott had to drive around downed trees and debris Wednesday night as he drove to Mexico Beach to check out the aftermath of Michael (see video below). It's left hundreds of thousands of people without power and an untold number of people homeless.

The storm left almost 500,000 people without electricity in Florida, Alabama and Georgia, emergency services say.

More than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast were ordered or urged to evacuate as Michael closed in, but it moved so fast that people did not have much time to prepare.

Tropical storm conditions are occurring over portions of central and eastern SC and will spread northward over central and eastern North Carolina this afternoon and evening.

It was a category two hurricane by Tuesday, and a borderline category five on Wednesday morning, packing 155mph winds.

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About 3,500 Florida National Guard troops were deployed, along with more than 1,000 search-and-rescue personnel, Governor Rick Scott said.

At least 13 storm-related deaths have been reported in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. Technically, it is defined by the National Hurricane Center as an increase in wind speeds of 35 miles per hour or more in 24 hours.

"It looks like a war zone", said B. Cody Shields, a 31-year-old who rode out the storm in his parents' Panama City home, not far from where Michael's center made landfall.

At least six deaths have been blamed on Michael, the most powerful hurricane to hit the continental U.S.in over 50 years.

Some of the worst damage was in Mexico Beach, where the hurricane crashed ashore Wednesday (Thursday, NZT) as a Category 4 monster with 250km/h winds and a storm surge of 2.7m.

Michael is the strongest hurricane to strike the Florida Panhandle on record and the strongest storm to make landfall in the continental USA since Hurricane Andrew, which struck in 1992. Rescuers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency used dogs, drones and Global Positioning System in the search.

At the White House, President Donald Trump said, "God bless everyone because it's going to be a rough one", he said. "And if not, that they're not in those structures". Alabama, South Carolina and North Carolina reported more than 160,000 outages.

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Add Hurricane Michael as an interest to stay up to date on the latest Hurricane Michael news, video, and analysis from ABC News. It had a low barometric pressure recorded at 919 millibars in its eye, which is how a hurricane's force is measured.

Just a few weeks ago, Hurricane Florence made landfall on September 14 near Wrightsville Beach, NC.

Schools and state offices in the area are to remain shut this week.

At 03:00 GMT on Thursday, maximum sustained winds decreased to 75mph, the NHC said in a bulletin.

Early Thursday, Michael, now a tropical storm, was abut 30 miles south-southwest of Macon, Georgia, with winds of about 70 mph.

Michael, now a tropical storm, is set to drive into North Carolina by Thursday afternoon after it claimed a child's life in Georgia.

"The rapid intensification of these storms, which was part of what made them so risky and devastating, is something models are telling us global warming should make more common globally over the present century", said Gabriel Vecchi, one of the authors of the study and a climate scientist at Princeton University. This media house does not correct any spelling or grammatical error within press releases and commentaries.

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