AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Hurricane Michael struck the Florida Panhandle early this afternoon. It is making history as the strongest hurricane to hit north Florida's Gulf Coast. Michael Brennan is a specialist at the National Hurricane Center.
MICHAEL BRENNAN: Michael's made landfall, and it's a very strong Category Four hurricane, maximum winds of 155 miles per hour. Landfall happened right around 12:30 Central Daylight Time between Mexico Beach, Fla., and Tyndall Air Force Base.
CHANG: At least one person so far has died from the storm. A man was killed when a tree fell on his house. NPR's Debbie Elliott joins us now from the Florida Panhandle in Crestview. Hey, Debbie.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Hi there.
CHANG: So we know conditions are still unfolding as the storm moves inland. But what can you tell us about the impact of the storm so far?
ELLIOTT: Well, it - it's moved past me here in the Florida Panhandle. I'm about a hundred miles from where it came ashore. But there are some serious implications down along the coast where this storm came in. It picked up even more steam and intensified before it came ashore. The winds caused significant property damage. We're getting reports of roofs ripped off buildings, some structures collapsing. Trees have been blown down over a very wide area. Power lines are down - hundreds of thousands without power right now.
But water is also a major, major issue here. Michael pushed this wall of water ashore, the storm surge that was up to 14 feet near the eye of the storm. Homes have been swamped in a little community called Mexico Beach. Downtown Apalachicola is flooded. Now, these are historic - you know, old Florida towns is what I call them. They're not the big high-rise condos that you might associate with Florida beaches - so older historic homes, longtime fishing communities really feeling the brunt of this.
CHANG: Did you get the sense that people in this area were prepared enough? Were they taking the threat seriously enough before the storm?
ELLIOTT: You know, Hurricane Michael came up really fast in the Gulf over the weekend, so there wasn't a lot of lead time. Evacuations were ordered for hundreds of thousands of people. You know, as I drove along the coast to get here, you know, towns like Fort Walton Beach, Panama City were empty and boarded up. But there are always people who stay behind and sometimes people who end up staying just because they don't have the resources to get out, right? So after a briefing with President Trump today, Federal Emergency Management director Brock Long said that was what he was worried about - the people who stayed behind.
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BROCK LONG: We are concerned that many citizens chose not to heed the warnings. But we're prepared with search and rescue teams to try to go in and do what we can.
ELLIOTT: So that's what's happening next, you know, along the coast, you know, clearing roads of those downed trees I talked about so that emergency crews can get into the affected areas. They've got shallow-water rescue boats. There are helicopters and high-water vehicles that have been staged for the response. Neighboring states have offered teams to help. So that's where this moved next right here along the coast.
CHANG: So we know Hurricane Michael's landfall there on the Florida coast is not going to be the end of the story. What kind of threat does this storm pose going forward now?
ELLIOTT: Well, the crazy thing is that it's moving through southeast Alabama and south Georgia right now as a Category 3 storm. That's remarkable. Usually storms lose their punch as they cross land. This one is carrying its steam. It's going to go on into the Carolinas, those people who just suffered Hurricane Florence. North Carolina's governor, Roy Cooper, has declared a state of emergency and calls it a dreadful storm that poses serious risks. So this is not over.
CHANG: That's NPR's Debbie Elliott in Crestview, Fla. Thanks, Debbie.
ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.