Hurricane Michael, 3rd most powerful in US history, kills at least 7 people

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Hurricane Michael, the third most powerful hurricane in US history, slammed into the state of Florida Thursday, killing at least seven people and bringing “life threatening” floods to several states on the Atlantic coast.

Michael struck Florida’s northwest coast near the small town of Mexico Beach on Wednesday afternoon with top sustained winds of 155 miles per hour (250 kph), pushing a wall of seawater inland and causing widespread flooding.

The storm tore entire neighborhoods apart, reducing homes and businesses to piles of wood and siding, damaging roads and leaving scenes of devastation that resembled the aftermath of a carpet-bombing operation.

The storm left “unimaginable destruction” and “so many lives have been changed forever,” Florida Governor Rick Scott said in a statement posted on social media.

US Army troops used heavy equipment to push a path through debris in Mexico Beach to allow rescuers through to search for trapped residents, survivors or casualties.

Rescuers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) used dogs, drones and GPS in the search. “We prepare for the worst and hope for the best. This is obviously the worst,” said Stephanie Palmer, a FEMA firefighter and rescuer from Coral Springs, Florida.

Fast-moving Michael, a Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale when it came ashore, with top sustained winds of 50 mph (80 kph) as it headed for the Atlantic coast, the US National Hurricane Center said.

It weakened Thursday night to a tropical storm.

With a barometric pressure recorded at 919 millibars, a measure of a hurricane’s force, Michael was the third strongest storm on record to hit the continental United States, behind only Hurricane Camille that made landfall in the state of Mississippi in 1969 and the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 in the Florida Keys.

It was toppling trees and bringing life-threatening flash flooding to areas of Georgia and Virginia, which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence, as it marched northeast.

At least seven people were killed by falling trees and other hurricane-related incidents in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, according to state officials.

Almost 1.2 million homes and businesses were without power from Florida to Virginia on Thursday because of the storm.

“It looks like an atomic bomb had hit our city,” Florida resident David Barnes told the Panama City News Herald. “Damage has been widespread.”

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

An insurance company that produces models for catastrophes is estimating Hurricane Michael caused about $8 billion in insured losses.

(Source: Agencies)

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