A potentially catastrophic Category 4 Hurricane Michael has made landfall in the Florida Panhandle with sustained winds of 155 mph, making this the strongest storm to hit the continental US since Hurricane Andrew smashed into South Florida in 1992.
The extremely dangerous centre of Michael – also the strongest hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle in recorded history – crossed near Florida's Mexico Beach on Wednesday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center said. Its winds and storm surge wreaked havoc along the shore.
"I am scared to death for the people who chose not to evacuate. This is just a horrendous storm," Gov. Rick Scott told CNN shortly after Michael's landfall.
Streets were flooding in the Panhandle city of Apalachicola. In Panama City Beach, winds of about 100 mph furiously whipped the trees in the early afternoon as siding ripped from a building got caught against a fence.
Earlier in that oceanside city, video from a meteorologist showed new construction collapsing in high winds.
Among the concerns: Flash-flooding with heavy rain; life-threatening storm surges up to 14 feet high; and devastating winds, not just in the Panhandle, but southern Alabama and Georgia.
Michael's wind could be dangerously strong well after landfall, into the night.
"That's going to knock down a lot of trees, say, in the Tallahassee area, all of these areas inland. It's going to be big problems... as far as the wind goes, and then coastal storm surge," CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray said.
Gov. Scott on Monday and Tuesday urged people to get out of the way as Michael strengthened rapidly over the Gulf of Mexico after lashing Central America and western Cuba. Officials issued mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders in at least 22 counties on the Florida Gulf Coast.
Scott declared a state of emergency and activated 2,500 National Guardsmen; he said more than 1,000 search-and-rescue personnel will be deployed once the storm passes.
President Donald Trump approved a pre-landfall emergency declaration to provide federal money and help in Florida.
Before Michael, only three major hurricanes Category 3 or higher had struck the Panhandle since 1950: Eloise in 1975, Opal in 1995 and Dennis in 2005.