PERRY, Fla. (AP) — 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.
“It was frightening,” Thomas said. “Things were just going so fast. … Everything was spinning.”
Idalia came ashore in the lightly populated Big Bend region, where the Florida Panhandle curves into the peninsula. It made landfall near Keaton Beach at 7:45 a.m. as a high-end Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 125 mph (205 kph).
The system remained a hurricane as it crossed into Georgia with top winds of 90 mph (150 mph), after drenching Florida mostly to the east of Tallahassee. Forecasters said it would punish the Carolinas overnight as a tropical storm.
Astounded by the flooding that turned Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard into a river, Bill Hall watched a paddleboarder ride along the major thoroughfare.
“This is actually unbelievable,” Hall said. “I haven’t seen anything like this in years.”
In Tallahassee, Florida’s capital city, the power went out well before the center of the storm arrived.
Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey urged everyone to shelter in place — it was too late to risk going outside. Florida residents living in vulnerable coastal areas had been ordered to pack up and leave as Idalia gained strength in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
“Don’t put your life at risk by doing anything dumb at this point,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference Wednesday morning. “This thing’s powerful. If you’re inside, just hunker down until it gets past you.”