A child in Seminole County, Georgia, was confirmed as the second victim of Hurricane Michael late Wednesday as the storm blazed through the area after obliterating much of the Florida Panhandle.
The death was announced by Travis Brooks, the head of the county’s emergency management agency, as Michael was downgraded to a tropical storm on Wednesday night. Brooks said the child was believed to have died when something fell into a home he was visiting. Rescue crews are reportedly struggling to reach the scene due to downed power lines and trees.
Authorities in Greensboro, Florida, said earlier that a man trapped inside his home after a tree fell on the roof was believed to be the first death related to the hurricane after it hammered the Florida coast with winds of over 150 miles per hour.
In a matter of hours, the storm, which had been gaining strength in recent days as it hurtled toward the coast, caused extensive damage in Panama City, including broken and uprooted trees and downed power lines. The damage includes homes that were split by fallen trees and roofs that were sheered from buildings.
Vance Beu, 29, said a pine tree branch made a hole in the roof of the apartment he shares with his mother. “It was terrifying, honestly. There was a lot of noise. We thought the windows were going to break at any time,” Beu told the AP. “We had the inside windows kind of barricaded in with mattresses. We did whatever we could to kind of hunker down.”
Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City also suffered “extensive damage” after taking a “direct hit” from the storm, the military base announced on Facebook late Wednesday. The base advised evacuated personnel to be ready for an “extended time away from the base” as teams carry out work to repair “significant structural damage.”
The Army Corps of Engineers is reportedly preparing to patch up tens of thousands of damaged homes with temporary rooftops in a bid to allow residents to remain in their homes during recovery efforts. The Corps has already provided about 200 generators to keep the power going at hospitals, nursing homes, and police and fire stations in the wake of Hurricane Michael.
Winds related to the storm have decreased to a Category 1 level as the eye of hurricane made its way toward Georgia with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. CNN reported the 155 mph winds at time the hurricane made landfall were the strongest for a hurricane at landfall in the continental United States since Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, search and rescue teams have begun their efforts in the affected regions. Florida Gov. Rick Scott said thousands of utility crews were ready to restore power to the 388,160 homes that had lost electricity as a result of the storm. He said police, military, and health care specialists were also ready to provide essentials and medical attention to stranded residents.
“Hurricane Michael is the worst storm that the Florida Panhandle has ever seen, one of the worst to ever make landfall in the United States,” Scott said during a briefing state’s Emergency Operations Center. “We’re turning 100 percent of our focus to search and rescue, and recovery.”
Scott noted that two tornadoes were spotted in Gadsden County, along with widespread winds and flooding in Florida’s Panhandle.
The newspaper reported that President Donald Trump made a “pre-landfall disaster declaration” in order to expedite the recovery coordination between the state and the federal government. At a rally Wednesday evening in Erie, Pennsylvania, the president said he would be traveling to Florida “very, very shortly.”
“I want to send out thoughts and prayers of our entire nation to everyone in the path of Hurricane Michael, especially in the Florida Panhandle, where it’s hitting and hitting hard,” he said, adding that the federal government would be prepared to help. “We’re all set to go, we’re going to follow it right in.”