Hurricane Michael weakens to Category 1 storm: NHC

Hours earlier, it made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane near Mexico Beach, Florida.

Damage in Panama City near where Michael came ashore Wednesday afternoon was so extensive that broken and uprooted trees and downed power lines lay almost everywhere.

It is rare for a storm to be at Category 5 strength as it makes landfall in the U.S. The last one was Hurricane Andrew in South Florida in August 1992.

Authorities told residents along the affected areas of Florida's Gulf of Mexico coast on Wednesday morning that they had run out of time to evacuate and should hunker down.

The only other hurricane that landed with comparable force this late in the year was Hurricane Hazel in 1954, but Michael was much stronger when it came ashore, Mr. Henson said. Forecasters said rainfall could reach up to a foot (30 centimeters), and the life-threatening storm surge could swell to 14 feet (4 meters). Homes were swallowed in storm surge.

Four days later, "it's one for the record books", said Kerry Emanuel, an atmospheric scientist with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Two to three inches of rain is expected for the area during the storm as well.

"I am hearing on TV, as all of us go home, it will be like a war zone", she added.

In addition, this storm had the third-lowest central air pressure of any US landfalling hurricane on record. The storm, which has sustained winds of 60 mph, was about 25 miles east of Macon, Ga., the National Hurricane Center said in a 2 a.m. ET advisory.

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Only Hurricane Camille on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1969 and the so-called Labor Day hurricane of 1935 in the Florida Keys were more intense.

There are several ways to measure a hurricane's strength.

"We are catching some hell" was how a Panama City Beach resident who chose to ride it out described Michael as it made landfall.

Its winds shrieking, the Category 4 storm crashed ashore in the early afternoon near Mexico Beach, a tourist town about midway along the Panhandle, a lightly populated, 200-mile stretch of white-sand beach resorts, fishing towns and military bases.

Even before Michael made full landfall, it was whipping trees with its winds and had caused flooding in the town of Apalachicola, where more than 5 feet (1.5 meters) of water was reported, and about 20 miles away (32 km) in Port St. Joe. That makes Michael the third-strongest hurricane to ever hit the United States and the strongest in almost 50 years.

"We are in new territory", National Hurricane Centre Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen wrote on Facebook.

President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration for Florida, freeing up federal funds for relief operations and providing the assistance of FEMA, which has more than 3,000 people on the ground.

There has never been a Category 4 storm make landfall along the Panhandle and Michael just missed the Category 5 threshold of 157 miles per hour as it arrived near Mexico Beach.

Meteorologists first got a sense something big could be happening by watching how Michael's eye changed shape.

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