Hurricane Idalia ripped into Florida like a fast-moving train on 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-potent storm that flooded roadways and sent residents fleeing for higher ground.
According to apnews.com, Thomas and her family escaped to a motel, believing it would be safer than waiting out the storm at home. But, around 8:30 a.m., a loud whistling noise pierced the air, and powerful winds ripped the roof off the structure, raining debris down on her pregnant daughter, who was laying in bed. Fortunately, she was unharmed.
“All hell broke loose,” said Belond Thomas of Perry, a mill town located just inland from the Big Bend region where Idalia came ashore.
“It was frightening,” Thomas said. “Things were just going so fast. … Everything was spinning.”
Idalia made landfall as a high-end Category 3 hurricane at Keaton Beach around 7:45 a.m., with maximum sustained winds near 125 mph (205 kph). With maximum speeds of 90 mph (150 kph), the system remained a hurricane as it passed into Georgia. By late Wednesday afternoon, it had reduced to a tropical storm, and its winds had slowed to 65 mph (100 kph) by Wednesday evening.
High winds destroyed signs, blew off roofs, drove sheet metal flying, and snapped large trees as the eye advanced inland. In Georgia, one person was killed. There were no official hurricane-related deaths in Florida, however the Florida Highway Patrol reported two persons died in separate weather-related collisions just hours before Idalia made landfall.
As it moved into the Carolinas, the storm brought high gusts to Savannah, Georgia, on Wednesday evening. It was expected to cross over Charleston, South Carolina, early Thursday morning before continuing east and out to the Atlantic Ocean.
According to the National Weather Service, Idalia produced a tornado that briefly touched down in the Charleston suburb of Goose Creek. According to investigators and eyewitness video, high winds blew an automobile away and flipped it over. Two persons were injured but only slightly.
North Myrtle Beach, Garden City, and Edisto Island on South Carolina’s coast all reported ocean water surging over sand dunes and spilling onto beachside streets Wednesday evening. Storm surge from Idalia crested the seawall that defends downtown Charleston, dumping ankle-deep ocean water into streets and neighbourhoods where horse-drawn carriages pass million-dollar homes and the famous open-air market.
According to preliminary statistics, the high tide on Wednesday evening reached just over 9.2 feet (2.8 metres), more than 3 feet (0.9 metres) above normal and the fifth-highest reading in Charleston Harbour since records began in 1899.
Florida had expected the worst while still recuperating from Hurricane Ian last year, which devastated the heavily populated Fort Myers area and killed 149 people in the state. Idalia, unlike that storm, blasted onto a sparsely populated area known as Florida’s “nature coast,” one of the state’s most rural sections that lies far from big metropolises or bustling tourist spots and contains millions of acres of unspoiled territory.
That doesn’t mean it didn’t cause significant damage. Water rushed into neighbourhoods near the coast, unmoored small boats, and over 500,000 people in Florida and Georgia lost electricity. The wind smashed out store windows, ripped siding off buildings and overturned a petrol station canopy in Perry. Heavy rains inundated Interstate 275 in Tampa, while wind fell power lines onto the northbound side of Interstate 75 near Valdosta, Georgia.
Water from Deadman’s Bay engulfed shops, boat docks, and homes in Steinhatchee, Florida, less than 20 miles (32 kilometres) south of where Idalia made landfall. Police officers stopped traffic entering the coastal village of over 500 people known for its fishing and forestry industry.
State officials, 5,500 National Guardsmen, and rescue personnel were examining bridges, clearing downed trees, and searching for anyone in need.