Coast Guard boat and aviation units deployed along the Florida Panhandle coast a day after Hurricane Michael slammed Panama City, before moving swiftly northeast over the still-sodden Carolinas.
The storm center made landfall around 2 p.m. Wednesday near Mexico Beach, a resort town about 24 miles east of Panama City. Brock Long, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, called the town “ground zero” for the hurricane impacts and said it was virtually wiped out.
A massive search and rescue operation got underway for people trapped in homes and cut off by storm surge flooding and blocked roads. An 80-mile stretch of Interstate 10 was closed and emergency teams heading into stricken communities faced miles of downed trees and utility poles.
Nine aircraft and three shallow water boat teams were deployed by the Coast Guard, which reported 17 rescues before 9 a.m. the morning after landfall. Those included nine people rescued by Coast Guard air crews after they were trapped inside a bathroom by a roof collapse at the height of the storm Wednesday afternoon.
“We have multiple aviation and ground assets focused on saving lives,” said Cmdr. Jason Franz, the incident commander for Hurricane Michael at the Coast Guard sector in Mobile, Ala., in a statement issued Thursday morning.
“We’re working closely with Customs and Border Protection aircrews to help with our search and rescue operations. Our pollution and damage assessment teams have begun evaluating major areas of pollution and damage to our waterways, and we’ve partnered with the Army Corps of Engineers and other port partners to begin the process of re-establishing our ports to ensure we have commerce flowing as soon as possible.”
With the storm moving rapidly the Coast Guard declared a port condition Zulu for all North Carolina ports at 3 a.m. Thursday, and preparations were underway in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia for the arrival of tropical storm winds later in the day. By 3 p.m. conditions had improved enough for the port of Savannah and Brunswick, Ga., and Charleston, S.C., to be reopened without restrictions.
Peak wind gusts of 57 mph were reported early in the day at Folly Beach, S.C., near Charleston. Rainfalls of 4” to 6” were forecast for parts of central North Carolina, threatening to send new flows down rivers to areas flooded last month by Hurricane Florence, and extending into southern Virginia as the storm center moved out to sea.