Hurricane Michael, the third strongest storm to ever hit the continental United States, has slammed into Florida’s panhandle with surprising speed and intensity.
The storm’s extreme 155 mile-per-hour winds at landfall, and the lack of time to prepare for the cataclysmic wind and rain, magnified the disaster’s scale. Compared to last year’s Hurricane Irma, the panhandle areas hit by the storm had relatively small populations (and the state capital Tallahassee was spared the storm’s worst effects), but communities — especially on the coast — were completely decimated.
At press time, the death toll had reached 17, though rescuers were still combining through the rubble and destruction, and officials expect the overall numbers will increase.
The Insurance Journal reports that CoreLogic believes insured storm losses could range from $2 to $4.5 billion (not including National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) losses). Of that, residential losses could total $1.5 to $3 billion and commercial losses could be as much as $500 million to $1 billion.
Coastal communities such as Mexico Beach, Apalachicola, Panama City Beach and Marianna were almost obliterated, and Tyndall Air Force Base was ruined (though the Air Force flew its extensive fleet of expensive military jets away from the base before the storm blew the base apart.)
“We’re kind of getting crushed,” Franklin County sheriff A.J. Smith said, describing the situation in Apalachicola. “It’s horrific,” he told the Washington Post.
There certainly was extensive damage in Tallahassee; however damage wasn’t as great as feared. “Do we feel a little lucky about where we are now,” Leon County administrator Vince Long told the Tallahassee Democrat. “I think given the magnitude of this storm, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.”
The storm had sustained winds of 155 mile per hour when it made landfall at Mexico Beach, making the storm more powerful than Hurricane Andrew, which devastated south Florida in 1992, and far more severe than last year’s Hurricane Irma.
However, because Irma lashed highly populated Southern Florida communities, the costs will prove much higher than from Michael. Irma cost an estimated $50 billion in damages in the US, with 92 fatalities.