With the Southeast still reeling from Hurricane Flo, Hurricane Michael unleashed its fury on the Florida Panhandle and south Georgia Wednesday and Thursday, heading into the Carolinas and Virginia to dump more rain on an already drenched region.
The storm killed four in Florida and one each in Georgia and North Carolina. All lanes of I-10 between mile marker 85 to mile marker 166 in Florida are closed due to debris, Florida authorities said Thursday. And about one million homes and businesses were without power in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas; as of Thursday evening, almost 700,000 still were.
Life-threatening flash flooding and tropical storm force wind gusts are expected over portions of Virginia and central and eastern North Carolina as Michael moves on.
The timing is especially bad since many north Florida and south Georgia crops were just days away from harvest. That’s also the case for peanuts and cotton, which seemingly have sustained major damage as well.
Michael is the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in Florida’s Panhandle since record-keeping began in 1851. Top winds were 155 mph at landfall, strong enough to smash buildings and likely to make restoring power through the affected region a weeks-long endeavor.
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At 919 millibars minimum pressure in the eye, Michael was the third most intense hurricane landfall in the U.S. in recorded history when it hit Ground Zero at Mexico Beach, FL, where a storm surge of 9-14 feet roared east through Apalachee Bay.
Ahead of the storm there were already 2 million ready-to-eat meals, 1 million gallons of water and 40,000, 10-pound bags of ice ready for distribution in Florida. Obviously the need will far outstrip that. Organizations like Samaritan’s Purse are on the ground working throughout the region – click HERE to help support those efforts.
It’s still too soon to sort out what the actual aftermath of Michael will be, but early reports from the ground level were not good.
Citrus grower and rancher Mack Glass reported “a tremendous amount of damage” from Marianna, FL in the Panhandle.
“Hurricane Michael devastated the Florida Panhandle, and the safety of all Floridians is our top priority. My heart goes out to those who lost loved ones, those who don’t have a home to return to, and those who have a long road ahead of them,” said Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam. “Florida’s agriculture industry suffered widespread devastation from Hurricane Michael, and today I spoke with Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary Sonny Perdue and Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black about the impacts of the hurricane on agriculture.
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“At least three million acres of timber were impacted by the storm and numerous other commodities suffered severe damage. We’ll continue to work with the industry and partners at the local, state and federal levels to fully assess the agricultural damage.”
Michael also delivered devastating blows to Florida’s poultry, peanut, dairy, cotton, tomato and aquaculture industries.
In Georgia, just 5% of pecan, 15% of cotton, 30% of vegetables and 50% of peanut harvests were complete when the storm hit, so crops were at their most vulnerable point.
“We are starting to get reports regarding damage to these crops, but still trying to quantify it all,” said Georgia Department of Agriculture spokeperson Julie McPeake. “We also know that there are at least 53 poultry houses destroyed in Coffee, Houston, Mitchell, Wilcox and Decatur Counties.”
Cotton in Georgia may be a total loss.
“For me the cotton crop is as bad as it gets,” said cotton farmer and State Representative Clay Pirkle. “I was picking 3-bale cotton yesterday; today it is gone. Can’t tell the difference between what I’ve picked and what I haven’t.”
People in the supply chain suspect that when the damage is finally tallied, Michael may be costlier than Flo by far, with impacts spread over a larger region and complicated by the already saturated conditions in the Carolinas.
Andrew Scott of Atlanta’s Nickey Gregory Company, which distributes overnight to retailers and foodservice in 11 Southeastern states, projects that supply of Southern vegetables and other items may be interrupted for as long as two months.