PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) – Virginia authorities have confirmed five storm-related deaths in the state.
Department of Emergency Management spokesman Jeff Caldwell told The Associated Press on Friday that four people drowned: three in the western part of the state and a fourth in central Virginia. He says a firefighter also was killed when a tractor-trailer slammed into his fire truck while he was responding to a two-car crash in heavy storm conditions.
Caldwell says there were five suspected tornadoes in the state, but they are still awaiting National Weather Service confirmation.
The commander of Tyndall Air Force Base says the “base took a beating” from Hurricane Michael and will require “extensive cleanup and repairs.”
Col. Brian Laidlaw told the 3,600 airmen stationed at the base just east of Panama City that he won’t ask them or their families to return until their safety is guaranteed. The base was evacuated in advance of the Category 4 storm that struck the Gulf Coast on Wednesday afternoon with 155 mph winds and a strong storm surge.
Laidlaw called the damage “catastrophic.” Videos of the damaged base show roofs ripped off hangars and a fighter jet on display toppled onto the ground.
In his letter posted on the base’s website, Laidlaw says crews need to clear trees from roads, repair power lines and “assess the structural integrity of our buildings” before anyone returns.
The National Hurricane Center has issued its final advisory on Michael, now a post-tropical cyclone speeding off over the Atlantic Ocean.
And, impressively, Michael’s top sustained winds are growing again, to near 65 mph (100 kph) at 5 a.m., with forecasters saying it will grow stronger still.
It remains very large, with tropical storm-force winds extending outward up to 275 miles (445 kilometers) from its center. A gauge on one offshore buoy recorded a wind gust of nearly hurricane strength.
The Hurricane Center says threats to land are diminishing. There’s a minor storm surge still along the North Carolina coast, gale-force winds may continue for a few more hours over the southern Chesapeake Bay area, and several inches of rain is expected from New Jersey up through Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Flash flooding may continue meanwhile in the Carolinas and mid-Atlantic states.
At least six deaths have been blamed on Michael, the most powerful hurricane to hit the continental U.S. in over 50 years.
The sheriff’s office in Gadsden County near Tallahassee says it “can now confirm 4 storm-related fatalities following Hurricane Michael,” all of which happened “in relation to or occurred during the storm.” County officials say they’re not releasing names or other details yet while families are notified.
One of those deaths would be a man killed by a falling tree. An 11-year-old girl in Georgia also died when Michael’s winds picked up a carport and dropped it through the roof of her grandparents’ home. A driver in North Carolina was killed when a tree fell on his car.
Some fear the toll can only rise as rescue teams get around storm debris blocking roads and reach isolated areas.
Hurricane Michael’s pounding waves and winds obliterated row after row of beachfront homes at ground zero on the Florida Panhandle when the epic Category 4 hurricane slammed ashore at midweek. Now recovery is just barely beginning from the catastrophic destruction even as a downgraded Michael spreads high winds, rains and flash flooding misery as far away as Virginia.
At least three deaths have been blamed on Michael, the most powerful hurricane to hit the continental U.S. in over 50 years.
By early Friday it wasn’t nearly over yet: a tropical storm long after Wednesday’s landfall, Michael stubbornly kept up its punch while barreling over land toward an expected exit across the open Atlantic. Forecasters say the storm has already begun shedding its tropical characteristics but will take on a new chapter as a powerful extratropical storm with gale force winds on its trek out to sea.