PANAMA CITY, Fla.
Ferocious Hurricane Michael roared ashore east of Panama City with pounding 155 mph winds and a devastating storm surge that flooded beachside towns, shredded roofs, left nearly a half-million people powerless in three states and killed at least one person.
With the storm still raging across Georgia late Wednesday night and bound for the Carolinas, that toll of damage and death was expected to grow.
Michael, arriving at just a 2 mph tick below Category 5, was the strongest hurricane ever to hit the Florida Panhandle. It made landfall at 1 p.m. local time, 5 miles northwest of Mexico Beach, a quiet beach town with a population of about 1,200.
By Wednesday evening, there was one confirmed death in Gadsden County, where officials said a person was killed by a falling tree.
More than 388,000 homes and businesses across the Panhandle and Big Bend regions were left without power Wednesday evening. Outages affected an estimated 100,000 more properties in Alabama and Georgia.
Jerry Nelson, born and raised outside Panama City, was stunned at the destruction. The winds lifted up the rectangular porch roof, then slammed it down to the floor.
“I’ve never been through one this bad,” Nelson said. “It sounded like 40 jet engines going off.”
As Michael churned inland, National Hurricane Center forecasters warned that the back half of the hurricane would continue to spread dangerous storm surge and winds.
Michael, downgraded to a Category 1 storm with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph at 9 p.m., spun into southwest Georgia on Wednesday evening. Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned that Floridians were not yet in the clear from the hurricane’s inclement weather.
The storm ravaged swaths of communities along the coastline, leveling homes in Mexico Beach and inflicting substantial damage to installations like Tyndall Air Force Base. Michael also knocked roofs off buildings along its path through northwest Florida, including some correctional facilities that were being assessed for structural damage.
The governor said the state had heard reports of two “devastating” tornadoes in Gadsden County and that they could still be possible elsewhere. He also warned Floridians to stay off the roads to make way for first responders and be cautious using generators as crews fanned out to assess the damage.
“If it’s not safe to leave your homes. Don’t leave them,” Scott said. “Listen to your local officials.”
Scott said search-and-rescue teams were being deployed south toward Bay County and other affected areas along the coast.
Barely an hour after the storm crashed ashore, the streets in the old historic district of Panama City resembled a war zone littered with debris and tree branches. Roofs were ripped off. The golden arches of a McDonald’s toppled onto a flooded street.
At the First Presbyterian Church, the roof was peeled back. The brick facade of an adjacent education center, the site of Panama City’s first high school in the 1900s, had fallen.
Along Harrison Avenue, the main business strip, winds shattered windows at Harris Business Machines, leaving the rain to soak copy machines inside. A ripped awning hung by a thin strip on one storefront. Decorative city trash cans rolled along like metal tumbleweeds.
During the height of the storm, Mike Lindsey and his wife tried to plug leaks in their business, Elegant Endeavors Antique Shop, after the building owner refused to board over the windows.
“My wife and I were standing back always because we could see them wobbling back and forth. We knew they were going to go,” Lindsey said.
When the windows finally exploded, glass sprayed onto the street and atop an antique chair, an oil painting and a skeleton pirate Halloween decoration.
“It was very dramatic. Very intense,” Lindsey said.
Winds also knocked out local radio and TV stations. The local ABC affiliate in downtown Panama City lost part of its roof and suffered heavy flooding. Its generator was also damaged. It’s unclear whether the station’s antenna, located about 20 miles away, survived, station manager Terry Cole said.
“There is no one on the air, radio or television,” Cole said. “I have things that hit our building and took chunks out of the building. We’ve got roofs from other buildings on ours, at least three of them.”
Hurricane Michael’s track also inched slightly farther west than initially forecast Wednesday, bringing the eye wall close to the state’s largest mental health facility in Chattahoochee, which was not evacuated before the storm, state officials said.
Department of Children and Families spokesman David Frady said Florida State Hospital had backup power and water systems that were activated before landfall. The hospital has, as recently as 2013, held just under 1,000 residents, though Frady said he did not have the exact number Wednesday. Staff were “staying at the facility and are well stocked with emergency supplies,” he said.
Gov. Scott announced just before 4 p.m. that he had asked President Donald Trump to declare a major disaster in Florida to speed up aid from the federal government. The request calls for full federal funding for debris removal and emergency protective measures, as well as assistance for 14 counties. Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson also sent a letter to Trump requesting disaster aid. Scott said the state has already spent nearly $40 million responding to Michael.
As the storm straddled Interstate 10, the major east-west highway across the Panhandle, on Wednesday, winds and rain in Tallahassee began to worsen steadily.
The local National Weather Service station lost communications with its radar around 1:30 p.m. Trees began toppling. As of 4:30 p.m., more than 52,000 of the city’s 120,000 customers were without power, according to the municipal electric utility, and 35,000 were without Talquin Electric power in the rest of the county. During Hurricane Hermine in 2016, about 80 percent of the city lost power, an issue that Scott and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is running for governor, have repeatedly sparred over.
The two spoke shortly before 3 p.m. to discuss storm updates, the mayor tweeted. Scott also spoke with the city’s utilities director, Duke Energy’s state president in Florida and Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil.
As the storm rolled inland, gauges on the Apalachicola River recorded water 7 to 8 feet higher than normal miles up river, National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said. Damaging tropical storm-force winds also extended about 175 miles from the storm’s center, he said.
“When you have a system that comes onshore at 155 mph, it’s going to stay a hurricane for a while,” he said.
Michael’s surge in strength came suddenly. On Tuesday, forecasters had not expected sustained winds to exceed 130 mph, although they warned that the storm might strengthen. But overnight as it churned toward the coast over very warm Gulf waters, Michael encountered little wind shear and rapidly intensified, growing by 15 mph in just eight hours.
In the old paper mill town of Port St. Joe, wind gusts were recorded at 106 mph before Michael’s landfall. Bay, Gulf and Franklin counties were under extreme wind warnings after National Weather Service meteorologists warned gusts could top 130 mph. A wind gauge at Tyndall Air Force Base recorded a 130 mph gust before it failed, the National Hurricane Center said. The base, just north of where Michael made landfall, moved its F-22 Raptors, stealth fighter aircraft, to Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio earlier in the week.
Despite urgent evacuation orders that began Monday, many residents hunkered down for the sudden hurricane, which formed just two days ago in the southern Gulf of Mexico.
Scott Bazar, 45, also took refuge in a church parking garage after a last-minute decision to flee his house and the towering trees in his yard that he worried would topple. Franklin, his rat terrier, and a cat named Bread Pudding also made the two-block drive from his house.
“This looks like obliteration. It’s pure power,” he said as he watched the winds topple a large ficus tree onto a church playground below.
Earlier in the morning, last-minute gawkers stood on the beach near what’s usually a busy tourist hub lined with miniature golf courses, oyster bars and condos.
“I was going to stay here until it got to a Category 4,” said Randy Simmons, 57, who came to check on his beachfront condo before heading to another inland property he owns. “This is going to be a big mess.”
A Janesville soup packaging company is branching into a new venture—one that would cater to pets rather than people.
The owners of IPM Foods plan to operate NaturPak Pet, a new pet food processing and packaging facility in a 160,000-square-foot facility planned on Innovation Drive on Janesville’s south side, a local commercial real estate broker announced Wednesday.
Under a deal worked out between Janesville Coldwell Banker Commercial-McGuire Mears & Associates, Janesville-based developer Badger Property Investments and IPM, NaturPak would lease a new facility planned just north of the Dollar General distribution warehouse on Janesville’s far south side. NaturPak would use the new facility to process and package wet pet food, said Bill Mears, a lead broker on the project said.
Badger Property Investments is building-to-suit the $20 million facility. IPM, which operates a 150,000-square-foot soup packaging facility on Capital Circle on Janesville’s east side, is a tenant of Badger Property Investments.
IPM relocated from a facility in Beloit and opened in 2017 in a facility Badger Property built in 2016.
The NaturPak project is slated to break ground this week. Mears said NaturPak could be in operation by summer 2019.
Mears said IPM approached Badger Property shortly after news last year that the city and Badger Property investments had reached a tax-increment financing deal on what at the time would have been a 100,000-square-foot industrial facility to be built on speculation.
Under a TIF deal the city approved earlier this year, the city agreed to sell a 16-acre parcel to Badger Property for $1, according to city records.
The city also agreed to float a $625,000 forgivable loan to help pay for construction of the speculation property, according to the memo.
The spec property never broke ground, Mears said, because shortly after the city and the developer reached a development deal, the “complexion” of the project changed. IPM signaled it wanted to branch into pet food, and the company thought the Innovation Drive site could work.
Mears said Badger Property pivoted on the facility’s design to provide a built-to-suit design that met NaturPak’s specifications. He said the reworked project won’t alter original terms of the city tax incentive package.
Mears said IPM plans to cook and combine ingredients for a proprietary, “premium” blend of wet pet food. Mears said he’s not fully familiar with IPM’s planned process at the facility, but he said it could be similar to how the company operates its soup packaging plant.
At IPM’s Janesville location, the company blends bulk ingredients it receives for soups for a range of major soup-makers. The company processes ingredients to order for individual soup types and brands, and packages the soup in Tetra Pak, special, recyclable, plastic-lined cartons made by a Swiss company.
It’s not clear whether NaturPak will use the same packaging process as IPM.
Mears said he was unsure how many people might work at NaturPak when it opens. City officials said IPM employs between 80 and 100 people.
He said NaturPak would have room on site to expand production to up to 300,000 square feet.
Records show IPM’s owners filed NaturPak last year as a limited liability company, but the company’s foray into pet food wasn’t announced until this week.
City of Janesville Economic Director Gale Price said his understanding is the NaturPak facility would operate in a way that’s similar to IPM’s soup processing and packaging setup, which he called a “pretty low key” industrial process.
“It’s not like they’re grinding bone for bone broth,” Price said.
Designs submitted to the city show a large freezer for ingredients brought to the facility, processing and cooking areas, packing areas, and corporate offices.
Price said IPM is a significant industrial water user, and the city works with the company on routine water and wastewater tests. He said in Janesville, IPM has not had any significant operational problems flagged by the city, and it has had no violations.
Under city zoning rules, pet food production is treated as an allowed manufacturing use the same as any food processing, Price said.
The NaturPak facility would be the fourth industrial facility Badger Property Investments has developed in Janesville in three years and the sixth in Southern Wisconsin since 2015, Mears said.
Badger Property principal Tom Lasse said in recent years, his dealings with the city of Janesville has shown a municipality that has a “development-friendly attitude.”
“None of the Janesville projects would have been possible without the continued support from the city of Janesville,” Lasse said in a statement.
Four candidates for state Assembly blasted the state’s health care policy and criticized Madison lawmakers for a lack of transportation funding at a forum Wednesday in Beloit’s City Hall.
Two candidates—Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, and Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit—are incumbents who said the Legislature could do more to boost health insurance coverage and fund roads.
Their opponents, meanwhile, blamed the incumbents for ongoing statewide issues.
Nearly 80 people attended the forum, which was co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Janesville and Beloit, Justice Overcoming Borders, NAACP, Greater Beloit Area Chamber of Commerce and Forward Janesville.
Loudenbeck faces Brittany Keyes in the 31st Assembly District race on Nov. 6. Spreitzer faces Reese Wood in the 45th Assembly District.
Keyes, a Beloit Democrat, fired multiple shots at Loudenbeck during the 90-minute forum. A physical therapist and a football coach at Beloit Memorial High School, Keyes said she would accept federal dollars to expand BadgerCare, reindex the gas tax and tie it to inflation and slammed the state for relying on bonds to pay for roads.
“People can say one thing, and then when push comes to shove, and the vote’s on the table, they may vote another way,” Keyes said. “My opponent has publicly supported raising the gas tax … but then when it came to committee, her vote did not demonstrate that she meant what she said.”
Loudenbeck, who’s seeking her fifth term in the Assembly, said she has been a vocal advocate for sustainable transportation funding. She said gas taxes are “regressive” and that people who use the roads most should pay more.
Loudenbeck said she has suggested charging a per-mile fee for large trucks traveling on the state’s roads. That measure didn’t have the support in the Assembly, she said, so the state ended up borrowing for transportation.
“If we can’t get the political will to actually do a gas tax or tolls or something else, I think we need to change the conversation because we’ve been having the same conversation for eight years,” Loudenbeck said. “We need to have an honest discussion about this. … Transportation affects everyone, and it costs everyone real money every day.”
Reese Wood, a Beloit Libertarian, advocated for legalizing hemp and marijuana as possible funding solutions for transportation and improved health care. He pushed back on some proposals by Spreitzer, saying discussions around funding health care programs aren’t as important as addressing the “quality of life” of residents.
Spreitzer, who is seeking his third term in the Assembly, said he has co-sponsored legislation that would allow residents to opt into BadgerCare, the state’s version of Medicare currently limited to low-income residents. He said the state could allow residents to buy into the program and thus offer lower rates than the private sector.
Loudenbeck said she didn’t know if expanding BadgerCare would drive down costs. She said it might cover more people but insisted it would shift the cost to private providers.
“We need to drive down the costs, not just figure out another way to pay for it,” Loudenbeck said.
Keyes and Spreitzer supported raising the minimum wage, yet neither said by how much. Keyes said the minimum wage likely would need to be different in Rock and Walworth counties than in other parts of the state.
On racial inequality, Keyes said Wisconsin is the worst state in the country to raise young black men. She said lawmakers have failed to have a conversation about the issue.
Loudenbeck agreed and said the racial inequality in prisons is “very troubling.” She said the state has seen some tightening in racial disparities, but she pushed for boosting programs such as Head Start, which gives low-income children a good start in school.
The 31st District stretches from eastern Beloit and Janesville to Elkhorn. The 45th District covers western Beloit and Rock County and parts of Green County.
Clarice H. Bergerson
Betty L. Cooper
Mary Jane Feldman
Henry L. Johnson
Thomas S. Lattomus
Patricia “Patti” Mannheimer
Michael C. McCann
Charles “Chuck” Nolan
Julie L. (Lattomus) Yuhas