How Bad Is Hurricane Michael? Damage From Storm of Lifetime High, Continuing as Michael Tracks Toward Georgia, Carolinas

Hurricane Michael made landfall Wednesday across the Florida Panhandle, just miles east of Panama City, as the strongest hurricane to ever hit the region and one of the strongest to hit the U.S. in 50 years. Packing winds clocked at 155 miles per hour at landfall, Michael washed away beaches, flattened houses, and stripped trees bare, knocking others down. Its damage has just begun.

Images of houses ripped apart emerged from near Mexico Beach, Florida, where Michael made landfall as a Category 4 storm, nearly a Category 5, and more than 250,000 had already lost power in the Florida panhandle early Monday afternoon. Now that number is above 500,000 without power and it is expected to keep growing as Michael takes a ripping journey north, across the southeast. With all its damage at landfall and soon after, the damaging journey of powerful Hurricane Michael has 36 hours ahead.

Tyndall Air Force Base, in Panama City, wrote on its Facebook page that the base had sustained extensive damage from the hurricane. The base had evacuated Monday and nobody was injured but damage so significant enough that evacuees have been told to continue their leave for an extended time. Tyndall Air Force base recorded one wind gust of 129 miles per hour.

In Marianna, Florida, an hour north of Panama City, had damaged buildings with collapsed walls and roofs torn off, according to social media posts. Similar stories were emerging from Tallahassee, the state capital, with downed power lines, trees and roofs damaged.

Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, around 12:30 p.m. with 155- mile per hour winds and a minimum pressure of 919 millibars—unprecedented for an October hurricane hitting the U.S. and unprecedented for the past five decades.

"Hurricane Michael is tearing through Panama City Beach, Florida," ABC 13 News in Panama City reported at 1:31 p.m. central time Wednesday. "Ripping away roofs, flooding condos and throwing debris everywhere."

More than two hours after landfall, Hurricane Michael was inland about 10 miles south of Mariana, Florida, still packing winds of 140 miles per hour. The storm was moving north, northeast at 15 miles per hour.

Maintaining hurricane strength as it continues across the Florida panhandle as a major hurricane, with a forecast track into Georgia at hurricane strength before settling to tropical storm strength in the Carolinas on Thursday, Hurricane Michael devastation will continue piling up. Among the greatest risks from here: tornadoes.

For instance, South Carolina once saw 47 tornadoes in two days in 2004 when Tropical Storm Frances moved north from the Florida Panhandle, according to the AP.

The National Weather Service says tornadoes are possible across the Florida Panhandle, southeast Georgia, and southern South Carolina through Thursday morning as Michael moves inland. In South Carolina, Beaufort County Emergency Management Division Commander Neil Baxley told the AP that tornadoes can spin up fast with little warning in the rainbands of the weakening hurricane.

Even before Hurricane Michael hit the Florida panhandle, lashing a 200-mile stretch of white sandy beaches extending through the state's Big Bend, the storm was causing "tornado-like" effects as it approached. If there is any good news about Hurricane Michael, a storm of a lifetime for most, it's that it made landfall in a sparsely populated area of Florida. Still, its damage from landfall, with massive power outages and flattened homes, will undoubtedly mount to a major disaster.

The Florida coastline took a hard hit from Hurricane Michael, strengthening as it approached, fueled by warm waters from the Gulf of Mexico and encountering little obstruction in the form of wind shear.

As it made landfall, Hurricane Michael "battered the coastline with sideways-blown rain, powerful gusts, and crashing waves," the AP reported. "It swamped streets and docks, flattened trees, stripped away limbs and leaves, knocked out power to a quarter-million homes and businesses, shredded awnings and sent shingles flying. Explosions apparently caused by blown transformers could be heard."

"We are catching some hell," said Timothy Thomas, who rode out the storm with his wife in their second-floor apartment in Panama City Beach. He told the AP he could see broken street signs and a 90-foot pine bent at a 45-degree angle.

In Bay County, home to Panama City, near where Hurricane Michael made a direct hit, emergency responders had to quit going out on calls, once conditions eroded Wednesday. TV stations and a newspaper newsroom in Panama City went dark as the power went out.

At the Panama City news station WJHG/WECP, reporter Tyler Allender tweeted that his colleagues were taking shelter in a hallway in the middle of the building because "this wind is SERIOUS."

A storm surge of near eight feet was recorded near Apalachicola, just to the east of Michael's landfall. The right side of a powerful hurricane is always the strongest.

In Panama City, plywood and metal flew off the front of a Holiday Inn Express, the AP reported. Part of the awning fell and shattered the glass front door of the hotel.

"Oh my God, what are we seeing?" said evacuee Rachel Franklin, her mouth hanging open.