Hurricane Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, on Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 storm — just shy of a Category 5 and the strongest ever to hit that part of the state in recorded history.
The storm crossed land about 20 miles southeast of Panama City at around 1:30 p.m. ET, traveling at 14 mph, with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph.
“THIS IS A WORST CASE SCENARIO for the Florida Panhandle!!Listen to your local emergency officials. Stay Inside & Survive,” the National Weather Service tweeted, quoting Director Louis Uccullini.
The latest on the storm:
- More than 265,000 customers in Florida and more than 50,000 in Georgia and Alabama were without power.
- More than 375,000 Florida residents were under evacuation orders.
- The storm was packing maximum sustained winds of 155 mph.
“We expect conditions across the Panhandle to begin deteriorating rapidly,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said. “Now the storm is here. It is not safe to travel across the Panhandle.”
Michael became one of the worst storms the Panhandle has ever faced. As the eye moved over the area, the National Weather Service warned people not to go outside in the “relative calm” because winds would pick up swiftly.
Hurricane-force winds would extend from the eye of the storm by 45 miles, the Hurricane Center said, and less severe tropical storm-force winds would extend up to 185 miles outward. Parts of both Florida and Georgia were under tornado warnings until early Thursday morning.
“The historical record, going back to 1851, finds no Category 4 hurricane ever hitting the Florida panhandle,” National Hurricane Center Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday.
Storm surge would be the most catastrophic on the Florida coast at nine to 14 feet. “The water will come miles inshore and can easily rise over the roofs of houses,” Scott said, adding that even two feet of storm surge could be deadly.
Lisa Dawn Parker, 51, decided to stay behind in Panama City Beach with her boyfriend. They watched from a sixth-floor apartment as winds tore the roof off of a beach resort.
“The resort next to us is completely demolished,” Parker said. “The windows are blown out. The whole front of it’s gone.”
“We didn’t think it was going to be worse than [Hurricane] Ivan. We don’t know why we stayed,” said a scared Parker.
More than 375,000 residents in dozens of Florida counties were under evacuation orders Wednesday, but FEMA administrator Brock Long said some residents didn’t have time to flee, while more than 144,000 customers were without power.
“If you failed to heed a warning for any reason, your goal should be to elevate as high as you can and get into a facility that you think can withstand the winds at this point and hope for the best,” Long said.
“Those who stick around to experience storm surge don’t typically live to tell about it, unfortunately,” Long said.
“Our prayers are with those that stayed. It’s going to be a devastating storm,” said Jeff Byard, FEMA’s associate administrator for the office of response and recovery.
“It is definitely going to knock out the services such as power. Our transportation will be heavily, heavily impacted, which is going to compound and complex issues when it is safe to go out and do search and rescue,” Byard said.
A Weather Channel crew even tried to leave their base in Apalachicola, but couldn’t because storm conditions made it impossible to drive, meteorologist Mike Bettes said on Twitter.
The sheriff in Panama City’s Bay County issued a shelter-in-place order early Wednesday, and the county’s Department of Emergency Services said officers could no longer respond to calls.
“It’s about too late to find shelters with #Michael moving in right now. The best thing to do is find shelter in your own place away from any windows,” the National Weather Service in Tallahassee, about 20 miles inland, said.
Officials also shut down the Hathaway Bridge on Wednesday, which connects Panama City and Panama City Beach, and is a main route in and out of the cities.
Torrential rains, destructive winds and possible tornadoes would also extend well inland. Parts of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and the Carolinas would also likely be hard-hit. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for 108 counties.
In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper issued a state of emergency ahead of Michael. Tropical storm warnings and storm surge watches were issued for parts of the coast of North Carolina, according to NOAA. The state was pummeled last month by the deadly Hurricane Florence.
Peter Macias, of the Red Cross, said approximately 4,000 people entered nearly 70 evacuation centers across the Florida Panhandle and into Alabama overnight.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed the emergency declaration requested by Scott for 35 Florida counties. Scott said Wednesday morning he updated the president on the storm, and Trump offered any necessary resources “as we prepare to respond to this massive and catastrophic storm.”
Government offices will close in those 35 counties, and while Tuesday was the deadline for Floridians to register to vote, residents will be allowed to register on the day those offices reopen, according to a statement from the Florida secretary of state. The Florida Democratic Party filed a lawsuit Tuesday saying that the one-day extension was insufficient and confusing.
This article originally appeared on NBC