Emergency officials rushed to evacuate at least 200 patients from a heavily damaged hospital and a vast search-and-rescue operation took shape across the Florida Panhandle on Thursday, one day after Hurricane Michael’s bombardment left homes splintered to their foundations, roads and water systems compromised and hundreds of thousands of people without electricity
The storm caused widespread damage, and the authorities said at least two people were killed. With the death toll expected to rise, one county to the next was a disaster zone of sirens, upended buildings and staggered — and newly homeless — residents.
At Bay Medical Center Sacred Heart in Panama City, windows had shattered, walls were stripped to their metal girders and new patients were showing up for treatment, only to find the entrance to the emergency room boarded-up. Officials said that in total four hospitals and 11 nursing facilities were closed in Florida, and that a nursing facility in Georgia was also closed.
Here are the latest developments:
• A man died on Wednesday after a tree crashed down on his home in Greensboro, northwest of Tallahassee, the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office said. WMAZ-TV reported that a girl died in Seminole County, in southwestern Georgia, when her home was struck by debris.
• The storm made landfall near Mexico Beach, Fla., just shy of Category 5 strength on Wednesday afternoon and was not downgraded to a tropical storm until midnight, once it had raced through the Panhandle and southwest Georgia as a hurricane.
• Much of the coast of the Florida Panhandle, including Panama City, Fla., and Mexico Beach, near where the hurricane made landfall, was left in ruins.
Go beyond the headlines.
• At 8 a.m. on Thursday, Michael was about 40 miles west-northwest of Columbia, S.C., heading northeast with sustained wind speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. The storm is moving relatively quickly, at 21 m.p.h., and is expected to speed up as it crosses into the Carolinas on Thursday and blows out to sea by early Friday. Click on the map below to see the storm’s projected path.
Hurricane Michael Made Landfall. We’re Tracking the Storm and Its Impact.
The storm is the worst ever to hit the Florida Panhandle.
• As of Thursday morning, more than 800,000 customers had lost power in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, according to electrical providers in those states. In some Florida counties, such as Franklin and Leon, nearly every customer was without power.
• Michael took the nation by surprise, intensifying rapidly from a tropical storm to a major hurricane in just two days and leaving little time for preparations. Read more about why it strengthened so quickly here.
A damaged hospital is evacuating patients
Bay Medical Center Sacred Heart, a 300-bed hospital in the heart of Panama City, Fla., was a tumultuous mess on Thursday morning. Hurricane Michael had strafed the center, breaking windows, damaging roofs and stripping off the outsides of some buildings. Signage was strewn in the streets.
Doctors, nurses and staff members wandered outside, some crying, some looking for cell service.
Bay Medical was one of two hospitals in Panama City — the other being Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center — that was damaged in the storm. Both, Gov. Rick Scott told CNN, were “in the process of being closed down.”
Temporary hospitals were being set up to treat people injured in the storm, the governor said, but that “we don’t know the numbers” of injured yet.
Bay Medical said in a statement that about 200 patients would be evacuated, including 39 intensive care patients who will be transferred first, to hospitals outside of the affected area. About 1,500 people had taken shelter in the hospital, the statement said.
But residents of the ravaged city were still showing up asking for medical care. A man named Wain Hall, 23, was standing with his bicycle, screaming at a security guard by the boarded-up entrance to the emergency room.
“I got a busted head, and so you refuse me medical attention here?” he said.
He lifted his ball cap to reveal matted, blood-soaked hair. “I have lost everything and everyone keeps turning us away,” he said.
The hospital was in poor condition to take in patients. Staff members said the hospital had partial electricity from its generators; there was no water and the toilets were filling up. Windows were broken. One staff member said that the fourth floor was flooded — perhaps from leaky windows or roof damage, she wasn’t sure. She had tied plastic bags over her shoes and the legs of her scrubs.
In a statement, the hospital said that the damage included a roof collapse in the materials management building, compromising a significant store of supplies needed to sustain care over the long term.
Dr. Brian Roake, the head of the anesthesiology department, was among those who rode out the hurricane in the hospital. “It was like hell,” he said.
Some patients had been moved out before the storm. But on Wednesday afternoon, as the storm began battering the city, it became evident that the hospital buildings themselves were not safe.
Inside, Dr. Roake said, the worst situation was in the intensive care unit, on the upper floors of a newer glass tower. The windows there are doubled paned, but the outer panes started breaking out.
There was a rush to move around 40 patients — post-heart surgery patients, critically ill septic patients, respiratory failure patients on ventilators — to safer quarters on lower floors in the center part of the building. Staff members and nurses had to carry some patients down stairways, because of concerns that the elevators had become unsafe, he said.
“Obviously there was a lot of emotions but I think people held together pretty well and tucked them away for awhile and just got on with what needed to be done,” he said.
Now came the job of moving the patients out. “They’re in the process of getting them transported to other hospitals — in Pensacola, wherever they can take them,” he said.
A nursing home in Panama City also suffered damage to the roof of one of its wings, but all the residents were O.K., said Rodney C. Watford, the facility’s administrator. He said that the center, the Clifford Chester Sims State Veterans Nursing Home, was operating off a generator, which was powering air-conditioning to the building.
‘Catastrophic damage’ on the Gulf
A storm that was initially forecast to arrive as a tropical storm instead amped up to furious intensity, hitting landfall just after midday Wednesday near the small seaside community of Mexico Beach, 100 miles southwest of Tallahassee, with winds topping 155 miles per hour.
Images from there showed swaths of shattered debris where houses once stood and structures inundated up to their rooftops; the streets of Panama City, farther west, were blocked by downed tree limbs and impossible tangles of power lines. Recreational vehicles, trucks and even trains were pushed over, surrounded by new lakes of water.
Governor Scott said Thursday that Michael had left a wide trail of devastation in his state, and that the authorities had turned their immediate focus to rescue efforts.
“We are deploying a massive wave of response, and those efforts are already underway,” Mr. Scott said. “Help is coming by air, land and sea.”
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said he had heard from local authorities who described extensive damage. “These are not people prone to hyperbole,” Mr. Rubio said on CNN. “Panama City is catastrophic damage. Someone told me, ‘Mexico Beach is gone.’”
Residents and emergency workers spent most of Wednesday hunkered down, and emerged only toward nightfall to begin assessing the storm’s toll. As dusk approached, though, the early outlines of a vast calamity were unfolding.
“You can’t drive a car anywhere, you can’t do anything because it’s littered with houses, pieces of houses,” said Patricia Mulligan, who rode out the storm with her family in a condo in Mexico Beach, a town of mom-and-pop shops and sport-fishing businesses about 35 miles southeast of Panama City. Outside, she said in a phone interview, she could see remnants of people’s lives strewn about: refrigerators, a beanbag chair, a washing machine, a kayak and a dresser.
Her brother, she said, lost a condo along the beach, and the other nearby units were also destroyed. “They’re not there,” she said. “It’s gone.”
Emergency crews are heading into the hardest-hit areas
Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in an interview on CNN on Thursday that he was most concerned about a few areas on the Florida coast, particularly Mexico Beach, the eastern parts of Panama City, Apalachicola and around Tyndall Air Force Base. He said that it appeared that the hospital system in Panama City had suffered major damage.
Mr. Long said that he was equally concerned about communities in southwest Georgia, which received Category 2 wind speeds, because of the large number of mobile homes in that part of the state. “We are always worried about trees falling on manufactured homes and mobile homes,” he said.
Emergency responders and search-and-rescue teams would try to enter the hardest-hit areas after sunrise, but Mr. Long expected that process to be challenging, given all the fallen trees, debris and downed power lines. He worried that the number of people killed in the storm would rise once crews could reach places where people did not evacuate.
“People do not live to tell the tale about storm surge,” he said.
A plea for residents to stay off the roads
Florida officials pleaded with residents to stay off the roads as crews tried to clear debris and emergency workers were scrambling to hard-hit areas.
That request, made repeatedly by Governor Scott on down through the ranks of sheriffs and city councilors, was just one of the admonitions the authorities issued less than 24 hours after the hurricane’s landfall.
They asked people to avoid downed power lines, and not to drive through flooded areas. They urged residents and visitors to keep emergency phone lines open and, in some areas, to boil their water or use bottled water. They told them to position generators at least 15 feet from homes, and to stay indoors.
In Tallahassee, the state capital, they even asked people to avoid flushing their toilets.
“It will help reduce flow to the system until power is restored,” the city explained in a post on Twitter.
Most of all, officials seemed to be asking for time and space.
“We ask evacuees to be patient as we begin recovery,” the government in Bay County, Fla., wrote Thursday. “It is not safe for you to return yet and will impede the progress of our first responders.”
The Carolinas, hit by Florence, brace for Michael
Residents still recovering from the devastating flooding caused by Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas, wearily awaited the winds and driving rain of now-Tropical Storm Michael.
As the storm intersects the track that Hurricane Florence took last month, Michael is expected to drop one to four inches of rain on still-saturated ground. Several areas are under flash-flood warnings. Unlike Florence, this storm’s rapid motion is expected to limit the long and drenching rainfall that inundated the Carolinas’ coastal plain.
“The people in North and South Carolina have been through it,” Mr. Long, the FEMA administrator, said. “This isn’t going to help.”
The National Weather Service in Charleston issued a coastal flood advisory for the Carolina coast and strong winds were already being felt in places like Myrtle Beach and Conway, a town hit particularly hard by flooding from Hurricane Florence. Tides along the Carolina coasts are expected to run three feet above normal in some areas.
The worst of Michael’s rain is expected to fall most heavily in a swath between Interstates 85 and 95 through North and South Carolina and into Virginia.