Hurricane Michael Slams Panhandle

Hurricane Michael made landfall around midday October 10 at Mexico Beach, Fla., just east of Panama City. With sustained winds near 155 mph. at landfall, Michael was the most powerful storm to make landfall in the United States since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Michael was the strongest hurricane to ever make landfall along the Florida Panhandle.

Roofs, cars, trains, trees, boats—little in the area east of Panama City, including Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe, was a match for the powerful eastern side of the hurricane.

Just 24 hours after landfall, the fast-moving system was near Charlotte, N.C., still packing winds near 50 mph. And with calm weather along the Florida Panhandle October 11, elected officials, first responders and residents were able to fully assess the terrible impacts of Michael.

“I’m taking an aerial tour of the damage from Hurricane Michael,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said on Twitter October 11 shortly after 12 p.m. “This storm was devastating. We will do everything we can to get resources in to these communities.”

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By October 11, Florida’s Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission was playing a major role, with more than 70 boats and 200 off-road vehicles conducting search and rescue operations. Likewise, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was gearing up to provide temporary roofs for damaged structures, as well as deploying generators for emergency power and conducting waterway surveys. The U.S. Coast Guard was also busy conducting aerial assessments and waterway surveys.

Less than 24 hours after Hurricane Michael’s landfall, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) from Perdido Key, Fla., at Mile 166 EHL (East of the Harvey Lock) westward through Alabama and Mississippi was open to navigation. Likewise, the ports of Mobile, Pascagoula and Gulfport were open to navigation and at port condition normal. As of press time October 11, the waterway east of Fort Walton Beach and the Port of Panama City remained closed to navigation pending surveys and debris removal.

“These surveys have been delayed as access to port facilities in the Panama City area and access to the GIWW is extremely limited,” Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association President Jim Stark said in a message to association members. “Anticipate significant shoaling and debris will block navigation on the GIWW.”

Beyond the immediate landfall zone, Hurricane Michael’s winds had a far-reaching impact on coastal communities throughout the Gulf Coast region. Communities along the GIWW in Louisiana, in particular the town of Jean Lafitte, had higher than normal tides that pushed water over some roads. In New Orleans, several floodgates along Lakeshore Drive at Lake Pontchartrain had to be closed because of lake water crashing onto roadways. The Harvey Canal Sector Gate at Lapalco Boulevard, near the lower end of the canal, had to be closed due to higher than normal tides.