As Hurricane Michael menaced the Florida Panhandle with howling winds and dangerous surf, residents riding out the storm in the popular resort town of Panama City Beach witnessed just how much damage it could deliver.
"The windows are blown out. The whole front of it's gone," she said in a phone interview with NBC News Wednesday after the storm hit.
"We didn't think it was going to be worse than [hurricane] Ivan," she said. "We don't know why we stayed."
She said there was "lots and lots of wind and debris," and that "the rest of the beach is getting tattered with waves. The water looks like it's gone up to the dunes from here."
The hurricane had maximum sustained winds of 155 mph when it made landfall Wednesday morning, making it a Category 4 — but the winds slowed slightly as it churned over land. Three major utilities in Florida reported outages affecting hundreds of thousands of customers.
He said he was disheartened that a number of the town's 12,000 residents failed to evacuate ahead in time, instead choosing to shelter in place. Even if they wanted to, all of the bridges in the county were deemed unsafe and closed earlier Wednesday afternoon.
"If you're going to live in a beautiful place, there's always some kind of problem with it, and this is truly beautiful, even now ... it's just a shame [the hurricane is] so destructive," Thomas said.
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