Hurricane Michael Hits Florida Panhandle With Winds Over 150 MPH
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
And we are tracking the worst storm to hit the Florida Panhandle in 100 years. That's according to Florida governor Rick Scott. Hurricane Michael rolled in strong across the Gulf of Mexico and then kept getting stronger as it approached the coast. It hit this afternoon with 155-mile-per-hour winds, flooding streets, toppling trees and power lines. Vincent Long is the administrator of Leon County. That is home to Tallahassee. And we reached him at his desk at the county's emergency operations center.
VINCENT LONG: There are a couple of hundred people working on the floor right now, representing various agencies like public works and EMS and fire. They represent about 25 different agencies. The way we have it set up here with all of the monitors around the room, people are getting real-time situational awareness on any number of issues. They're even in many cases wearing color-coded vests so everybody knows who's working what station and what smaller units they're working within. So they can just reach right across the table in many cases to coordinate with maybe a Red Cross representative with a Department of Health representative and the like.
KELLY: Sure. And what kind of calls do you have coming in right now?
LONG: Leading up to this storm, they were mostly people looking to get a bit of a status of things. I think the nature of the calls now have turned mostly to power outages and that sort of thing.
KELLY: Which - I guess - in the grand scheme of things, would be good news, if people are worried about power outages. It's - so far, you're not getting calls from people who need to be rescued from dire situations?
LONG: That's correct. However, we expect significant damage from downed trees. That constitutes a real threat in our community, known for its canopied roads, large pines and big oak trees. We have not responded to that risk yet. However, I should note that our emergency crews and our public works crews themselves are sheltering from the storm at this time.
KELLY: How much damage are you seeing right now?
LONG: It's too early to tell. The damage assessments will happen immediately following the worst part of the storm when our crews can get out and take a look at things. Our first order of business is always life safety. So clearing roads will be our - for our first responders will of course be a first priority for us.
KELLY: And what are most people in Leon County doing? Do you have any numbers in terms of how many have evacuated versus how many are hunkered down and boarded up their windows, and they're riding this out?
LONG: Well, I think a large portion of our population did decide to hunker down and ride the storm out. And we are about 60 miles away from the coast. However, we do have seven risk shelters open in our community, with 1,500 people currently in those shelters.
KELLY: Are those in, like, high schools or - where are they set up?
LONG: They are in storm-rated facilities in our high schools and one special needs shelter with redundant power. So again, about 1,500 people at this time, and that number tripled just this morning.
KELLY: So what does your next 24 hours look like?
LONG: First day, you know, we're getting our crews back out on the street. And in the condition - or as soon as it's safe to do so, as soon as the tropical-storm-force winds subside, we can get embedded crews out in the county to make damage assessments and to get our resources to those places in our community hardest hit. So clearing roads for first responders and utility crews to begin to get our community back to normal is our first priority.
KELLY: That's Vincent Long, the county administrator of Leon County, Fla. Mr. Long, thanks so much for taking the time.
LONG: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.