. (Reuters) – Hurricane Michael, the third-most powerful ever to strike the U.S. mainland, battered the Florida’s Gulf coast with roof-shredding winds, raging surf and torrential rains before it was downgraded to a tropical storm as it headed through Georgia.
Michael, whose rapid intensification as it churned north over the Gulf of Mexico caught many by surprise, made landfall on Wednesday afternoon near Mexico Beach, about 20 miles (32 km) southeast of Panama City in Florida’s Panhandle region, with top sustained winds reaching 155 miles per hour (249 kph).
The fiercest storm to hit Florida in 80 years came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson wind scale, the biggest storm on record to strike the Florida Panhandle. Its sustained winds were just 2 mph (3.2 kph) shy of an extremely rare Category 5.
The storm’s intensity waned steadily as it pushed inland and curled northeasterly into Georgia. It was downgraded to a tropical storm, with top sustained winds diminishing to 60 miles per hour, early on Thursday.