Hurricane Idalia hits Florida with 125 mph winds, flooding streets, snapping trees and cutting power

Idalia made landfall at 7:45 a.m. as a high-end Category 3 hurricane with maximum winds near 125 mph. The system remained a hurricane as it crossed into Georgia.

SHARE Hurricane Idalia hits Florida with 125 mph winds, flooding streets, snapping trees and cutting power
Joe Morgan, 53, clears a pine tree that had fallen on power lines in front of his Perry, Florida, home. No hurricane-related deaths were officially confirmed, but the Florida Highway Patrol reported two people dying in separate weather-related crashes just hours before Idalia made landfall.

Joe Morgan, 53, clears a pine tree that had fallen on power lines in front of his Perry, Florida, home. No hurricane-related deaths were officially confirmed, but the Florida Highway Patrol reported two people dying in separate weather-related crashes just hours before Idalia made landfall.

Associated Press

PERRY, Fla. — Hurricane Idalia tore into Florida at the speed of a fast-moving train Wednesday, splitting trees in half, ripping roofs off hotels and turning small cars into boats before sweeping into Georgia and South Carolina as a still-powerful storm that flooded roadways and sent residents running for higher ground.

“All hell broke loose,” said Belond Thomas of Perry, a mill town located just inland from the Big Bend region where Idalia came ashore.

Thomas fled with her family and some friends to a motel, thinking it would be safer than riding out the storm at home. But as Idalia’s eye passed over about 8:30 a.m., a loud whistling noise pierced the air and the high winds ripped the building’s roof off, sending debris down on her pregnant daughter, who was lying in bed. Fortunately, she was not injured.

Jewell Baggett searches for anything salvageable from the mobile home her father had acquired in 1973 in Horseshoe Beach, Florida, in the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia. Florida’s rural “nature coast” is not very populated, and assessing the damage could take time.

Jewell Baggett searches for anything salvageable from the mobile home her father had acquired in 1973 in Horseshoe Beach, Florida, in the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia. Florida’s rural “nature coast” is not very populated, and assessing the damage could take time.

Associated Press

“It was frightening,” Thomas said. “Things were just going so fast. ... Everything was spinning.”

After coming ashore, Idalia made landfall near Keaton Beach at 7:45 a.m. as a high-end Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 125 mph. The system remained a hurricane as it crossed into Georgia with top winds of 90 mph. It weakened to a tropical storm by late Wednesday afternoon, and its winds had dropped to 60 mph by Wednesday night.

As the eye moved inland, high winds shredded signs, blew off roofs, sent sheet metal flying and snapped tall trees. One person was killed in Georgia. No hurricane-related deaths were officially confirmed in Florida, but the Florida Highway Patrol reported two people dying in separate weather-related crashes just hours before Idalia made landfall.

The storm brought strong winds to Savannah, Georgia, on Wednesday evening as it made its way toward the Carolinas. It was forecast to move near or along the coast of South Carolina through Wednesday night and then just off the coast of North Carolina on Thursday before heading out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Idalia spawned a tornado that briefly touched down in the Charleston, South Carolina, suburb of Goose Creek, the National Weather Service said. The winds sent a car flying and flipped it over, according to authorities and eyewitness video. Two people sustained minor injuries.

Along South Carolina’s coast, North Myrtle Beach, Garden City, and Edisto Island all reported ocean water flowing over sand dunes and spilling onto beachfront streets Wednesday evening. In Charleston, storm surge from Idalia topped the seawall that protects the downtown, sending ankle-deep ocean water into the streets and neighborhoods where horse-drawn carriages pass million-dollar homes and the famous open-air market.

Preliminary data showed the Wednesday evening high tide reached just over 9.2 feet, more than 3 feet above normal and the fifth-highest reading in Charleston Harbor since records were first kept in 1899.

Florida had feared the worst while still recovering from last year’s Hurricane Ian, which hit the heavily populated Fort Myers area, leaving 149 dead in the state. Unlike that storm, Idalia blew into a very lightly inhabited area known as Florida’s “nature coast,” one of the state’s most rural regions that lies far from crowded metropolises or busy tourist areas and features millions of acres of undeveloped land.

That doesn’t mean that it didn’t do major damage. Rushing water covered streets near the coast, unmoored small boats and nearly a half-million customers in Florida and Georgia lost power. In Perry, the wind blew out store windows, tore siding off buildings and overturned a gas station canopy. Heavy rains partially flooded Interstate 275 in Tampa, and wind toppled power lines onto the northbound side of Interstate 75 just south of Valdosta, Georgia.

Less than 20 miles south of where Idalia made landfall, businesses, boat docks and homes in Steinhatchee, Florida, were swallowed up by water surging in from Deadman’s Bay. Police officers blocked traffic into the coastal community of more than 500 residents known for fishing and foresting industries.

State officials, 5,500 National Guard members and rescue crews were in search-and-recovery mode, inspecting bridges, clearing toppled trees and looking for anyone in distress.

Because of the remoteness of the Big Bend area, search teams may need more time to complete their work compared with past hurricanes in more urban areas, said Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Department of Emergency Management.

“You may have two houses on a 5-mile road so it’s going to take some time,” Guthrie said.

The National Weather Service in Tallahassee called Idalia “an unprecedented event” because no major hurricanes on record have ever passed through the bay abutting the Big Bend.

On the island of Cedar Key, downed trees and debris blocked roads, and propane tanks exploded.

RJ Wright stayed behind so he could check on elderly neighbors. He hunkered down with friends in a motel and when it was safe, walked outside into chest-high water. It could have been a lot worse for the island, which juts into the Gulf, since it didn’t take a direct hit, he said.

“It got pretty gnarly for a while, but it was nothing compared to some of the other storms,” Wright said.

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