HURRICANE MICHAEL | Thousands search for storm survivors


Associated Press

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — The Latest on Tropical Storm Michael (all times Eastern):

12:30 p.m.

Thousands of National Guard troops, law enforcement officers and medical teams are working their way into damaged communities to search for survivors of Hurricane Michael.

What authorities don't want are evacuees trying to come back to check on their properties. Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford says residents aren't being allowed past checkpoints until crews clean up downed power lines and trees.

Florida emergency officials say the devastation is so massive that it remains unclear if people who ignored evacuation orders were killed.

Authorities said that 285 people in Mexico Beach refused to leave, and many homes in that community were washed away. A National Guard team found 20 survivors there overnight and more crews were working through the wreckage on Thursday.

Hospitals and nursing homes are so damaged in the Panama City area that ambulances and helicopters are being used to ferry patients elsewhere.

Michael remained a hurricane for 12 hours and 200 miles as it moved over Florida and Georiga, and other teams are looking at reports of possible tornado damage well inland.


12:15 p.m.

Experts at the National Hurricane Center say Hurricane Michael's devastating storm surge reached as high as 14 feet (4.27 meters) in some areas of Florida's Gulf coast.

The center's storm surge unit said Thursday that peak storm surge ranged from 9 feet (2.7 meters) to 14 feet (4.27 meters) from Mexico Beach east through Apalachee Bay.

Officials said the highest storm surge hit near Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe, based on available observations and post-landfall models.

Officials had been warning that the surge of water pushed by the storm could be as serious as the hurricane's punishing winds. The threat of the storm prompted local officials to order mandatory evacuations in several Florida coastal counties.


11:55 a.m.

A coroner has identified the 11-year-old girl who was killed as Hurricane Michael blew through south Georgia.

Seminole County coroner Chad Smith on Thursday identified the girl as Sarah Radney.

Smith said an official cause of death had not been determined but that it would likely be massive blunt force trauma.

Seminole County Emergency Management Agency director Travis Brooks said strong winds picked up a portable carport Wednesday and dropped it down on the roof of the home where the girl was inside. One of the carport's legs punctured the roof and hit the girl in the head.

Seminole County is in the southwest corner of Georgia.


11:50 a.m.

The largest hospitals in Panama City are shutting down and evacuating patients due to heavy damage from Hurricane Michael.

Officials at Bay Medical Sacred Heart announced that they're transferring about 200 patients to hospitals in Pensacola and Jacksonville, and to Mobile, Alabama.

Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center says it has suspended all services and is evacuating patients as well.

Sacred Heart's statement says the transfers began at 3 a.m. Thursday with 39 critical care patients and would take about 48 hours to complete.

Damage at Sacred Heart includes blown-out windows, a cracked exterior wall and a roof collapse in a maintenance building that stores supplies necessary for long-term care. The hospital says no patients were injured and its emergency room remains open on generator power.


11:35 a.m.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is urging people in the Hurricane Michael disaster area to "be patient." He says emergency crews need to do their work to clear debris from roadways and restore power to hundreds of thousands of residents. Deal said about 450,000 power outages were reported in Georgia, and one death, that of an 11-year-old girl in the southwest corner of the state.

Deal says the primary mission at this point is to clear roadways so that officials can assess the damage.

Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black predicts long-lasting damage to the state's farms. He says pecan crops are badly affected and entire fields of cotton are completely wiped out.


11:25 p.m.

A federal judge is rejecting a push to extend Florida's voter registration deadline because of Hurricane Michael, saying there's "no justification" to do so.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled late Wednesday against the Florida Democratic Party, which called the Republican-led response to the storm's disruption confusing and inadequate.

Florida's deadline to register to vote was Tuesday, 29 days ahead of the Nov. 6 election.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner told local election supervisors that if their offices were closed Tuesday due to the hurricane, then they could accept paper applications for a single day once their offices reopen.

11 a.m.

Tropical Storm Michael is drenching the Carolinas with heavy rains as it heads toward the Atlantic Ocean.

The National Hurricane Center says the storm's top sustained winds have dropped to 50 mph (85 kph).

At 11 a.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 35 miles (60 kilometers) south-southeast of Charlotte, North Carolina. It was expected to emerge over the ocean Thursday night.

Forecasters say Michael remains a large weather system, with tropical storm-force winds extending up to 185 miles (295 kilometers) from its center.

Michael could drop up to 7 inches (18 centimeters) over parts of the Carolinas and southeastern Virginia.


10:55 a.m.

Most hurricanes quickly fall apart as they move over land. Not Michael. The third-most powerful hurricane on record to hit the U.S. mainland carved a path of destruction for roughly 200 miles (320 kilometers) from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico before its top sustained winds dropped to tropical-storm strength.

The National Hurricane Center says Michael did not lose its hurricane status until early Thursday, when its winds finally dropped below 74 mph (119 kph) near Browndale in central Georgia.

Based on its internal barometric pressure, Michael was the third most powerful hurricane to make landfall, behind the unnamed Labor Day storm of 1935 and Camille in 1969. Based on wind speed, it was the fourth-strongest, behind the Labor Day storm, Camille and Andrew in 1992.

Michael had top sustained winds of 155 mph (250 kph) when it hit Mexico Beach on Wednesday.

It's down to a tropical storm now as it moves over the Carolinas, but forecasters expect it to strengthen again once it moves over the Atlantic.

9:30 a.m.

Waves of search and rescue teams are fanning out across the Florida Panhandle looking for people who rode out Hurricane Michael.

The U.S. Coast Guard in Mobile, Alabama, says its crews have rescued 27 people, mostly from damaged homes.

Petty Officer Third Class Ronald Hodges told The Associated Press that a Jayhawk rescue helicopter crew pulled nine people from a bathroom of their Panama City home after their roof collapsed Wednesday afternoon.

Crews were out early Thursday searching for more victims. He says the number of rescues remains fluid and there were no reports of deaths so far from the Coast Guard's missions.

Florida emergency officials say they're starting to transfer patients out of damaged health care facilities. They're also trying to figure out the extent of damage to roads and bridges. A huge swath of Interstate 10, the main east-west route near the coast, is blocked off due to damage.


9:15 a.m.

Authorities are correcting early reports about the death of an 11-year-old girl as Hurricane Michael blew over southwest Georgia.

Seminole County Emergency Management Agency director Travis Brooks said it wasn't a tree but a carport that hit her home and killed her.

He said strong winds picked up a portable carport Wednesday and dropped it down on the roof. One of the carport's legs punctured the roof and hit the 11-year-old girl in the head.

Brooks said he wasn't able to get out much overnight to fully assess the damage in the county, because downed power lines and trees made roads impassable in the darkness. But he said the sheriff told him it looked like a bomb had gone off.


9 a.m.

Michael is now centered over South Carolina and is still a tropical storm after a long land journey over the southeastern United States.

A day after slamming into Florida's Gulf Coast as a strong Category 4 hurricane, Michael still had top sustained winds of 50 mph (85 kmh) and higher gusts, with tropical storm-force winds reaching 160 miles (260 km) from its center.

As of 9 a.m. Thursday, the storm was about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west-northwest of Columbia, South Carolina, moving northeast at 21 mph (33 kph). It's expected to keep blowing across central and eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia before crossing into the Atlantic Ocean by late Thursday or early Friday.

And at that point, forecasters expect Michael to strengthen again over open water.

7:30 a.m.

Fires still burned in the early morning darkness the day after Hurricane Michael made landfall in Mexico Beach, a Florida Gulf Coast beach town that doesn't usually get much attention. Michael pushed a 10-foot (3-meter) storm surge and 155 mph (249 kph) winds, just shy of a Category 5 hurricane, and Mexico Beach got the worst of it.

A reporter and photojournalist from the Tampa Bay Times ventured there in the dark early Thursday, finding the town of about 1,000 almost impassable. They reported seeing many destroyed homes, some with staircases leading to doors suspended 10 feet (3 meters) in the air with nothing on the other side, entire structures washed away. Refrigerators and toilets and piles of soggy furniture are strewn across properties.

And amid the wreckage, the crew spotted survivors — people who rode out the storm. One couple was looking for their mother's portable oxygen machine. Another man was shining a flashlight from his balcony as alarms sounded and fires burned.


6:45 a.m.

The Florida Highway Patrol has closed an 80-mile stretch of Interstate 10 to clear debris from Hurricane Michael.

In an email sent early Thursday, spokesman Eddie Elmore said the road was closed "due to extremely hazardous conditions."

The agency is working with the Florida Department of Transportation to clear the interstate which is the major east-west route across northern Florida and the Panhandle.

Elmore said the road is closed west of Tallahassee, between mile marker 85 near DeFuniak Springs and mile marker 166 near Lake Seminole.

The email didn't say how long the work was expected to take.


5:00 a.m.

Tropical Storm Michael continues to weaken as it over eastern Georgia as it makes its way toward the Carolinas. Early Thursday, the eye of Michael was about 90 miles (144 kilometers) northeast of Macon, Georgia and 45 miles (72 kilometers) west of Augusta. The storm's maximum sustained winds have decreased to 50 mph (80 kph) and it was moving to the northeast at 21 mph (33 kph).

The National Hurricane Center says the core of Michael will move across eastern Georgia into Central South Carolina on Thursday morning. It will then move across portions of central and eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia into the Atlantic Ocean by late Thursday or early Friday.


2:00 a.m.

An official with an emergency management agency says Tropical Storm Michael is responsible for a child's death in Georgia.

News outlets report Seminole County Emergency Management Agency Director Travis Brooks says someone called 911 as the storm passed through the area and reported the death. WMAZ-TV quotes Brooks as saying a tree fell onto a home Wednesday afternoon and killed an 11-year-old girl. Authorities have not released her identity.

Brooks says responding crews reached the home after nightfall due to clear downed power lines, poles and trees.

Early Thursday, the eye of Michael was about 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of Macon in central Georgia. The storm had top sustained winds of 60 mph (96 kph) and was moving to the northeast at 20 mph (32 kph).

The National Hurricane Center says the core of Michael will move across central and eastern Georgia Thursday morning, and then over southern and central South Carolina later in the day.


12:00 a.m.

Hurricane Michael's battering waves swamped streets and docks and shrieking winds splintered trees and rooftops. The most powerful hurricane on record to hit Florida's Panhandle left widespread destruction and wasn't finished Thursday as it crossed Georgia toward the Carolinas, a region still reeling from epic flooding in Hurricane Florence.

Authorities say at least one person died, a man hit by a falling tree on a Panhandle home.

The supercharged storm crashed ashore Wednesday afternoon amid beach resorts and coastal communities, a Category 4 monster packing 155 mph (250 kph) winds. Downgraded to a tropical storm over south Georgia, it was weakening by the hour. But it's still menacing the Southeast with heavy rains, winds and a threat of spinoff tornadoes.

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