Panama City weathers brunt of Hurricane Michael’s destructive force


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As Hurricane Michael menaced the Florida Panhandle with howling winds and dangerous surf, residents riding out the storm in the popular resort town of Panama City Beach witnessed just how damaging it could be.

Videos on social media showed 155-mph winds ripping tarps off roofs and new housing on the beach collapsing into the encroaching waves.

“The resort next to us is completely demolished,” said Lisa Dawn Parker, 51, who has lived in Panama City Beach for almost three years and who was riding out the storm along with her boyfriend in a friend’s apartment right by the beach.

“The windows are blown out. The whole front of it’s gone,” she said in a phone interview with NBC News Wednesday after the storm hit.

“We didn’t think it was going to be worse than [hurricane] Ivan,” she said. “We don’t know why we stayed.”

She said there was “lots and lots of wind and debris,” and that “the rest of the beach is getting tattered with waves. The water looks like it’s gone up to the dunes from here.”

The hurricane had maximum sustained winds of 155 mph when it made landfall Wednesday morning, making it a Category 4 — but it has since been downgraded to tropical storm. Two people have been confirmed killed, including an 11-year-child, after now Tropical Storm Michael made landfall as the strongest hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle in recorded history. Almost 326,000 customers in Florida and more than 409,000 others in Georgia and Alabama were reported to be without power.

“I’ve been here all my life and I’ve never seen the water hit the end of the pier the way that it’s doing,” Panama City Beach Mayor Mike Thomas told MSNBC before the storm made landfall Wednesday afternoon near Mexico Beach, a sparsely populated town about 28 miles to the southeast.

He said he was disheartened that a number of the town’s 12,000 residents failed to evacuate ahead in time, instead choosing to shelter in place. Even if they wanted to, all of the bridges in the county were deemed unsafe and closed earlier Wednesday afternoon.

“If you’re going to live in a beautiful place, there’s always some kind of problem with it, and this is truly beautiful, even now … it’s just a shame [the hurricane is] so destructive,” Thomas said.

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