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Wednesday February 19th, 2020 5:37AM

The Latest: Michael now centered over South Carolina

By The Associated Press

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

8:45 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 8 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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

2:00 a.m.

An official with an emergency management agency says Tropical Storm Michael is responsible for a child's death in Georgia.

News outlets report Seminole County Emergency Management Agency Director Travis Brooks says someone called 911 as the storm passed through the area and reported the death. WMAZ-TV quotes Brooks as saying a tree fell onto a home Wednesday afternoon and killed an 11-year-old girl. Authorities have not released her identity.

Brooks says responding crews reached the home after nightfall due to clear downed power lines, poles and trees.

Early Thursday, the eye of Michael was about 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of Macon in central Georgia. The storm had top sustained winds of 60 mph (96 kph) and was moving to the northeast at 20 mph (32 kph).

The National Hurricane Center says the core of Michael will move across central and eastern Georgia Thursday morning, and then over southern and central South Carolina later in the day.

___

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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