Hurricane Michael Live Updates: Desperate Scenes at Storm-Damaged Hospital
PANAMA CITY, Fla. — 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. The other hospital in Panama City, Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center, said it had suspended all services and was evacuating patients.
Officials said that in total four hospitals and 11 nursing facilities were closed in Florida. 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. Images from there showed swaths of shattered debris where houses once stood and structures inundated up to their rooftops; streets were blocked by downed tree limbs and impossible tangles of power lines.
• At 11 a.m. on Thursday, Michael was about 35 miles south-southeast of Charlotte, N.C., heading northeast with sustained wind speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. The storm is moving relatively quickly, at 23 m.p.h., and is expected to speed up as it crosses the Carolinas on Thursday and blows out to sea by early Friday. Click on the map below to see the storm’s projected path.
• 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.
• “The big problem with this hurricane was the tremendous power,” President Trump said on Thursday, adding that “we’ve not seen destruction like that for a long time.”
• 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.
Damaged hospitals are 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 were evacuating patients.
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, lifting his ball cap to reveal matted, blood-soaked hair. “I have lost everything and everyone keeps turning us away.”
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.
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.
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 on Wednesday afternoon.
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.
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.
Hurricane Michael in pictures
The photographers Gabriella Angotti-Jones, Scott McIntyre, Johnny Milano and Eric Thayer are on the ground in Florida covering the storm for The New York Times. See their images here.
‘Extensive damage’ at an Air Force base
Tyndall Air Force Base, which straddles a narrow spit of land jutting out into the Gulf, a dozen miles south of Panama City, “sustained extensive damage,” a post on the base’s Facebook page said.
Winds topping 130 miles an hour knocked down trees, felled power lines, tore roofs from buildings, and ripped a static display of an F-15 fighter jet at the base entrance from its foundation, pitching it into the air where it landed upside down.
Fortunately, “there have been no injuries reported on Tyndall at this time,” the Facebook post said.
The base, which sits just nine feet above sea level, is home to a series of hangers and a runway, as well as tree-lined neighborhoods for about 600 Air Force personnel. The base hosts a number of jets, including F-22 Raptor stealth fighters, which cost well over $100 million a piece. The base commander ordered all jets to fly to inland bases earlier in the week.
Video footage taken from a helicopter, and posted on Twitter by the commercial weather forecaster Accuweather, showed widespread damage.
The roof of the base’s largest hangar, which has been used to store jets during weaker storms, was skinned down to its steel rafters, revealing at least three small planes inside, covered in debris. Though the video does not reveal large amounts of standing water near the flight line, it shows roofs shorn off several other buildings surrounding the hangar, garage doors punched in, and cars flipped over.
It was unclear Thursday if the runway was usable. Base officials say they are assessing damage. It is not known when personnel will be able to return.
Other Air Force bases along the coast, as well as the Navy base in Panama City, have resumed limited operations.
Emergency crews are heading into the hardest-hit areas
Governor Scott said Thursday that Michael had left a wide trail of devastation, 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 the 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.’”
The other areas of greatest concern were the eastern parts of Panama City, Apalachicola and around Tyndall Air Force Base, said Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency..
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.
[How a storm death is counted can vary from state to state, and even county to county.]
Mr. Long expected the search-and-rescue 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.
Florida officials also pleaded with residents to stay off the roads as crews tried to clear debris and emergency workers were scrambling to hard-hit areas. 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.
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.
Richard Fausset reported from Panama City; Patricia Mazzei from Tallahassee, Fla.; and Alan Blinder from Atlanta. Reporting was contributed by Chris Dixon from Conway, S.C.; Melissa Gomez, Mihir Zaveri and Matthew Haag from New York; and Daniel Victor from Hong Kong.
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