Hurricane Michael set to be strongest storm to ever hit Florida Panhandle

Based on its internal barometric pressure, Michael was the third most powerful hurricane to hit the US mainland, behind the unnamed Labor Day storm of 1935 and Camille in 1969.

Michael hit Florida with wind speeds of 155 miles per hour (250 kilometers per hour), placing it nearly into Category 5 scale, which starts at 157 mph.

Emily Hindle lies on the floor at an evacuation shelter set up at Rutherford High School, in advance of Hurricane Michael, which is expected to make landfall today, in Panama City Beach, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018.

Michael came ashore with winds just under a Category 5 storm.

The wind and storm surge related insurance industry loss from hurricane Michael is estimated to be between $2 billion and $4.5 billion by Corelogic, based on a pre-landfall data assessment of the storms impacts to insured assets.

The threshold for a Category 5 hurricane is 157 miles per hour maximum sustained winds. Emergency managers say they don't know how many left the area, but there were about 6000 people in 80 shelters in five states, including almost 1200 who are still in shelters following Hurricane Florence.

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As with most large hurricanes, the National Weather Service has issued a whole list of watches and warnings associated with the storm, including severe thunderstorm alerts and tornado watches.

When they pulled up, ripped shingles and uprooted trees lay scattered everywhere, along with mangled cars and twisted street signs.

Even before Michael made full landfall, it was whipping trees with its winds and had caused flooding in the town of Apalachicola, where more than 5 feet (1.5 meters) of water was reported, and about 20 miles away (32 km) in Port St. Joe.

That means Michael's pressure at landfall was lower than Maria, Katrina and Andrew.

The Weather Channel warns of "catastrophic storm surge" and incredibly high speed winds associated with the storm.

After it ravaged the Panhandle, Michael barreled into south Georgia as a Category 3 hurricane - the most powerful ever recorded for that part of the neighboring state.

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"I wished I was dreaming", Brandon Troupe said of seeing their planned project in ruins.

So it will take some time for the full scale of the property damage from hurricane Michael to be understood.

Brock Long, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said early evacuation efforts in the area were slow. "Do not risk your life, leave NOW if you were told to do so", it said.

Addressing the media at the state Emergency Operations Center Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Rick Scott said a "massive wave of response" was already underway from the state, utilities and the U.S. Coast Guard, for the storm that "came really fast". It was downgraded to a Category 1 storm, with top sustained winds diminishing to 75 miles per hour (120 kph), about nine hours after it made landfall. It is the fourth strongest on record, and nothing this ferocious has ever hit the Panhandle.

State officials issued disaster declarations in Alabama and Georgia and the storm is also expected to bring heavy rainfall to North and SC.

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