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Thursday October 18th, 2018 1:08AM

The Latest: Hurricane damage maroons Florida mental hospital

By The Associated Press
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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — The Latest on Tropical Storm Michael (all times Eastern):

10:40 a.m.

Gov. Rick Scott says people from Florida's Panhandle to the Big Bend woke up to "unimaginable destruction." He says Hurricane Michael have changed lives forever, and "many families have lost everything." He says "this hurricane was an absolute monster."

Florida officials also said Florida's big mental hospital in Chattahoochee is "entirely cut off" by land, so they're dropping food and supplies in from the air. The mental hospital has a section that houses the criminally insane, but they say the facility itself has not been breached.

In Panama City, Bay County emergency management officials say most roads remained blocked by water or debris Thursday morning, so survivors in the should "stay put and standby."

As for people outside the disaster zone, they're asking people moved by images of the destruction to make monetary donations to relief organizations, rather than sending supplies.

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10:10 a.m.

Gov. Rick Scott says the Florida National Guard got into Mexico Beach and found 20 people who survived a direct hit from Hurricane Michael.

The town where the hurricane made landfall Wednesday remained very difficult to reach by land a day later, with roads covered by fallen trees, power lines and other storm debris.

Overhead video from a CNN helicopter Thursday morning reveals widespread devastation across the town of about 1,000 people.

Entire blocks of homes near the beach have been washed away, leaving nothing but concrete slabs in the sand. Rows and rows of other homes are smashed to pieces or crunched to the ground and leaning at odd angles.

The town was under a mandatory evacuation order as the rapidly developing storm targeted the coast, but some people were determined to ride out the hurricane.

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10 a.m.

Utilities in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama reported that more than 932,000 customers were without power in the wake of Hurricane Michael.

Nearly half of those affected were in Florida, which bore the brunt of Michael - the most powerful storm on record to hit the state's Panhandle. It left widespread destruction as it crossed into Georgia toward the Carolinas, a region still reeling from epic flooding in Hurricane Florence.

The Category 4 storm made landfall Wednesday afternoon amid beach resorts and coastal communities, packing 155 mph (250 kph) winds.

Michael thrashed Georgia as a hurricane and eventually weakened to a tropical storm early Thursday. Despite the downgrade, the storm was still pounding the Southeast with heavy rains, winds, and a threat of spinoff tornadoes.

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9:50 a.m.

The Army Corps of Engineers is sending in generators to help get power to storm-ravaged areas, and teams to start clearing debris and begin building temporary roofs.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said officials were just starting to go in and survey the damage but expect power to be out for weeks in some areas. Hurricane Michael made landfall in Mexico Beach, just down the coast of Panama City, and left a wide path of destruction in its wake.

Long says "Mexico Beach took the brunt, that's probably ground zero."

Red Cross officials say 7,800 people were in 100 shelters across three states. They said it's still not clear how many people stayed put and would need to be rescued.

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9:40 a.m.

Emergency officials in South Carolina are reporting no injuries or deaths so far as Tropical Storm Michael moves across the state.

Emergency Management Division spokesman Derrec Becker said thousands of people lost power though, and 10 shelters are open for people seeking safety from the storm. Becker said about 55 people were in the shelters early Thursday.

The Talmadge Bridge on U.S. 17 over the Savannah River between Savannah, Georgia and South Carolina remains closed because of the threat of high winds on the suspension bridge.

Some other highways are still closed because of flooding and damage from Hurricane Florence last month.

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9:30 a.m.

Waves of search and rescue teams are fanning out across the Florida Panhandle looking for people who rode out Hurricane Michael.

The U.S. Coast Guard in Mobile, Alabama, says its crews have rescued 27 people, mostly from damaged homes.

Petty Officer Third Class Ronald Hodges told The Associated Press that a Jayhawk rescue helicopter crew pulled nine people from a bathroom of their Panama City home after their roof collapsed Wednesday afternoon.

Crews were out early Thursday searching for more victims. He says the number of rescues remains fluid and there were no reports of deaths so far from the Coast Guard's missions.

Florida emergency officials say they're starting to transfer patients out of damaged health care facilities. They're also trying to figure out the extent of damage to roads and bridges. A huge swath of Interstate 10, the main east-west route near the coast, is blocked off due to damage.

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9:15 a.m.

Authorities are correcting early reports about the death of an 11-year-old girl as Hurricane Michael blew over southwest Georgia.

Seminole County Emergency Management Agency director Travis Brooks said it wasn't a tree but a carport that hit her home and killed her.

He said strong winds picked up a portable carport Wednesday and dropped it down on the roof. One of the carport's legs punctured the roof and hit the 11-year-old girl in the head.

Brooks said he wasn't able to get out much overnight to fully assess the damage in the county, because downed power lines and trees made roads impassable in the darkness. But he said the sheriff told him it looked like a bomb had gone off.

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9 a.m.

Michael is now centered over South Carolina and is still a tropical storm after a long land journey over the southeastern United States.

A day after slamming into Florida's Gulf Coast as a strong Category 4 hurricane, Michael still had top sustained winds of 50 mph (85 kmh) and higher gusts, with tropical storm-force winds reaching 160 miles (260 km) from its center.

As of 9 a.m. Thursday, the storm was about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west-northwest of Columbia, South Carolina, moving northeast at 21 mph (33 kph). It's expected to keep blowing across central and eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia before crossing into the Atlantic Ocean by late Thursday or early Friday.

And at that point, forecasters expect Michael to strengthen again over open water.

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7:30 a.m.

Fires still burned in the early morning darkness the day after Hurricane Michael made landfall in Mexico Beach, a Florida Gulf Coast beach town that doesn't usually get much attention. Michael pushed a 10-foot (3-meter) storm surge and 155 mph (249 kph) winds, just shy of a Category 5 hurricane, and Mexico Beach got the worst of it.

A reporter and photojournalist from the Tampa Bay Times ventured there in the dark early Thursday, finding the town of about 1,000 almost impassable. They reported seeing many destroyed homes, some with staircases leading to doors suspended 10 feet (3 meters) in the air with nothing on the other side, entire structures washed away. Refrigerators and toilets and piles of soggy furniture are strewn across properties.

And amid the wreckage, the crew spotted survivors — people who rode out the storm. One couple was looking for their mother's portable oxygen machine. Another man was shining a flashlight from his balcony as alarms sounded and fires burned.

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6:45 a.m.

The Florida Highway Patrol has closed an 80-mile stretch of Interstate 10 to clear debris from Hurricane Michael.

In an email sent early Thursday, spokesman Eddie Elmore said the road was closed "due to extremely hazardous conditions."

The agency is working with the Florida Department of Transportation to clear the interstate which is the major east-west route across northern Florida and the Panhandle.

Elmore said the road is closed west of Tallahassee, between mile marker 85 near DeFuniak Springs and mile marker 166 near Lake Seminole.

The email didn't say how long the work was expected to take.

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5:00 a.m.

Tropical Storm Michael continues to weaken as it over eastern Georgia as it makes its way toward the Carolinas. Early Thursday, the eye of Michael was about 90 miles (144 kilometers) northeast of Macon, Georgia and 45 miles (72 kilometers) west of Augusta. The storm's maximum sustained winds have decreased to 50 mph (80 kph) and it was moving to the northeast at 21 mph (33 kph).

The National Hurricane Center says the core of Michael will move across eastern Georgia into Central South Carolina on Thursday morning. It will then move across portions of central and eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia into the Atlantic Ocean by late Thursday or early Friday.

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12:00 a.m.

Hurricane Michael's battering waves swamped streets and docks and shrieking winds splintered trees and rooftops. The most powerful hurricane on record to hit Florida's Panhandle left widespread destruction and wasn't finished Thursday as it crossed Georgia toward the Carolinas, a region still reeling from epic flooding in Hurricane Florence.

Authorities say at least one person died, a man hit by a falling tree on a Panhandle home.

The supercharged storm crashed ashore Wednesday afternoon amid beach resorts and coastal communities, a Category 4 monster packing 155 mph (250 kph) winds. Downgraded to a tropical storm over south Georgia, it was weakening by the hour. But it's still menacing the Southeast with heavy rains, winds and a threat of spinoff tornadoes.

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