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‘Catching some hell’: Hurricane Michael slams into Florida


PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Supercharged by abnormally warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle with terrifying winds of 155 mph Wednesday, splintering homes and submerging neighbourhoods. It was the most powerful hurricane to hit the continental U.S. in nearly 50 years.

Its winds shrieking, the Category 4 storm crashed ashore in the early afternoon near Mexico Beach, a tourist town about midway along the Panhandle, a lightly populated, 200-mile stretch of white-sand beach resorts, fishing towns and military bases.

Michael battered the shoreline with sideways rain, powerful gusts and crashing waves, swamping streets and docks, flattening trees, stripped away leaves, shredding awnings and peeling away shingles. It also set off transformer explosions and knocked out power to more than 190,000 homes and businesses.

“We are catching some hell,” said Timothy Thomas, who rode out the storm with his wife in their second-floor apartment in Panama City Beach.

With the hurricane still pounding the state hours after it came ashore, and conditions too dangerous in places for search-and-rescue teams to go out, there were no immediate reports of any deaths or serious injuries.

Michael was a meteorological brute that sprang quickly from a weekend tropical depression, going from a Category 2 on Tuesday to a Category 4 by the time it came ashore. It was the most powerful hurricane on record to hit the Panhandle.

“I’ve had to take antacids I’m so sick to my stomach today because of this impending catastrophe,” National Hurricane Center scientist Eric Blake tweeted as the storm — drawing energy from the unusually warm, 84-degree Gulf waters — became more menacing.

More than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast were urged to evacuate as Michael closed in. But the fast-moving, fast-strengthening storm didn’t give people much time to prepare, and emergency authorities lamented that many ignored the warnings and seemed to think they could ride it out.

“While it might be their constitutional right to be an idiot, it’s not their right to endanger everyone else!” Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson tweeted.

Diane Farris, 57, and her son walked to a high school-turned-shelter near their home in Panama City to find about 1,100 people crammed into a space meant for about half as many. Neither she nor her son had any way to communicate because their lone cellphone got wet and quit working.

“I’m worried about my daughter and grandbaby. I don’t know where they are. You know, that’s hard,” she said, choking back tears.

Hurricane-force winds extended up to 45 miles (75 kilometres) from Michael’s centre. Forecasters said rainfall could reach up to a foot (30 centimetres), and the life-threatening storm surge could swell to 14 feet (4 metres).

A water-level station in Apalachicola, close to where Michael came ashore, reported a surge of nearly 8 feet (2.5 metres).

Based on its internal barometric pressure, Michael was the third most powerful hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland, behind the unnamed Labor Day storm of 1935 and Camille in 1969. Based on wind speed, it was the fourth-strongest, behind the Labor Day storm (184 mph, or 296 kph), Camille and Andrew in 1992.

It appeared to be so powerful that it was expected to remain a hurricane as it moved into Alabama and Georgia early Thursday. Forecasters said it will unleash damaging wind and rain all the way into the Carolinas, which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence’s epic flooding.

At the White House, President Donald Trump said the government is “absolutely ready for the storm.” ”God bless everyone because it’s going to be a rough one,” he said. “A very dangerous one.”

In Mexico Beach, population 1,000, the storm shattered homes, leaving floating piles of lumber. The lead-grey water was so high that roofs were about all that could be seen of many homes.

In Panama City, plywood and metal flew off the front of a Holiday Inn Express. Part of the awning fell and shattered the glass front door of the hotel, and the rest of the awning wound up on vehicles parked below it.

“Oh my God, what are we seeing?” said evacuee Rachel Franklin, her mouth hanging open.

The hotel swimming pool had whitecaps, and people’s ears popped because of the drop in barometric pressure. The roar from the hurricane sounded like an airplane taking off.

Meteorologists watched satellite imagery in complete awe as the storm intensified.

“We are in new territory,” National Hurricane Center Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen wrote on Facebook. “The historical record, going back to 1851, finds no Category 4 hurricane ever hitting the Florida panhandle.”

Colorado State University hurricane expert Phil Klotzbach said in an email: “I really fear for what things are going to look like there tomorrow at this time.”

The storm is likely to fire up the debate over global warming.

Scientists say global warming is responsible for more intense and more frequent extreme weather, such as storms, droughts, floods and fires. But without extensive study, they cannot directly link a single weather event to the changing climate.

With Election Day less than a month away, the crisis was seen as a test of leadership for Scott, a Republican running for the Senate, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum , the Democratic nominee for governor. Just as Northern politicians are judged on how they handle snowstorms, their Southern counterparts are watched closely for how they deal with hurricanes.

Thousands of evacuees sought shelter in Tallahassee, which is about 25 miles from the coast but is covered by live oak and pine trees that can fall and cause power outages even in smaller storms.

As winds started to topple trees in Tallahassee, one of them landed on Joe Marino’s chimney.

“It was like an earthquake. The bookshelf shook and a frame fell down,” he said. “It was weird. We went outside and you could smell the pine, and there it was, laying on the chimney.”

Marino, who lives with his girlfriend and her grandmother, said water started dripping through the chimney, and they feared the wind would send the tree crashing through the roof. They planned to stay on the first floor.

“Upstairs is a no-go zone,” he said.

Only a skeleton staff remained at Tyndall Air Force Base, situated on a peninsula just south of Panama City. Hundreds of military families were moved out, and the base’s aircraft, which include F-22 Raptors, were flown to safety hundreds of miles away.

In St. Marks, John Hargan and his family gathered up their pets and moved to a raised building constructed to withstand a Category 5 after water from the St. Marks River began surrounding their home.

Hargan’s 11-year-old son, Jayden, carried one of the family’s dogs in a laundry basket in one arm and held a skateboard in the other as he waded through calf-high water.

Hargan, a bartender at a riverfront restaurant, feared he would lose his home and his job to the storm.

“We basically just walked away from everything and said goodbye to it,” he said, tears welling up. “I’m freakin’ scared I’m going to lose everything I own, man.”


Associated Press writers Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Fla.; Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Brendan Farrington in St. Marks, Fla.; Russ Bynum in Keaton Beach, Fla.; Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, North Carolina; and Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Md., contributed to this story.


For the latest on Hurricane Michael, visit

Jay Reeves And Brendan Farrington, The Associated Press

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Names in the mix: Conservative leadership contenders



OTTAWA — The Conservative leadership race is underway and the deadline to register as a candidate was Thursday.

To register, a candidate had to submit 1,000 signatures, $25,000, and a full application form. Each also needs to be approved by the party’s leadership organizing committee.

These are the candidates who have been approved to run:

— Marilyn Gladu: A professional engineer for decades before she was elected an MP in 2015, Gladu is well-liked among her peers in the House of Commons, once being named the “Most Collegial Parliamentarian” in an annual survey. She represents the Ontario riding of Sarnia-Lambton, and has been the party critic on health and science files. She has two children.

— Jim Karahalios: A long-time activist in Ontario conservative circles, Karahalios is known for two advocacy campaigns targeting the Ontario Progressive Conservative party, one to end its once-upon-a-time support for a carbon tax, and a second over nomination issues plaguing the party under former leader Patrick Brown. A lawyer and businessman, he is the spouse of Belinda Karahalios, the Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP for the riding of Cambridge.

— Leslyn Lewis: A Toronto lawyer who came to Canada from Jamaica as a child. Though she’s never held elected office, she did run for the Conservatives in the 2015 election, losing to a Liberal. She runs a legal practice and among other things was until recently the vice-chair of Ontario’s Trillium Foundation, a major government granting agency. She holds multiple degrees, including a PhD. She has been endorsed by the Campaign Life Coalition, an organization that supports pro-life candidates.

— Peter MacKay: MacKay was a member of Parliament from 1997 to 2015 representing ridings in Nova Scotia. In 2003, he became the leader of the Progressive Conservative party, and was instrumental in its merger with the Canadian Alliance to form the current Conservative party in 2004. He went on to hold three cabinet positions in the subsequent Conservative governments. He left politics to resume his legal career. He is married to human-rights advocate Nazanin Afshin-Jam, with whom he has three children, and they live in Toronto. MacKay is the first candidate to have met all the requirements to run in the race, submitting the entire $300,000 fee and 3,000 signatures, as well as the application.

— Erin O’Toole: O’Toole is in his third term as an MP, having left the private sector for politics in a 2012 byelection for the Toronto-area riding of Durham. He was veterans-affairs minister in the last Conservative government, a post he received in part thanks to his earlier career in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He ran for the leadership of the party in 2017, finishing third. He is married to events planner Rebecca O’Toole and they have three children. In addition to meeting the first threshold for candidates, O’Toole has submitted a further 1,000 signatures, the entire refundable $100,000 compliance deposit and an additional $25,000 of the total fee.

— Rick Peterson: Peterson is making his second try for the Conservative leadership, having run and lost in 2017. After that campaign, he moved his B.C.-based business to Alberta, partially in an unsuccessful effort to try and secure a nomination to run as a candidate there. Since then, in addition to his finance business, he’s launched a not-for-profit focusing on getting people in the investment industry to support resource-sector workers and their families. He lives in Edmonton with his wife and three dogs.

— Derek Sloan: In his first term as a member of Parliament for the Ontario riding of Hastings-Lennox and Addington, Sloan previously worked as a lawyer and before that, owned a furniture business. He’s running with the support of several anti-abortion organizations. He is married and has three children.

These are the candidates who met the deadline to submit the required signatures and fee but who are awaiting official approval by the party:

— Richard Decarie: From Quebec, his conservative bona fides include work getting Stephen Harper elected as the first leader of the Conservative party. He’s also worked as a talk show host and in the not-for-profit sector, including with Food Banks Quebec. He is running expressly as a social conservative. He is married and has a daughter and a stepdaughter.

— Rudy Husny: The longtime Quebec operative for the Conservative party was until recently working for current leader Andrew Scheer. When the Conservatives were in government, Husny held several positions in the trade minister’s office, assisting with communications and stakeholder relations on files including international trade agreements.

All candidates must, by March 25, submit the refundable $100,000 compliance deposit, the entire non-refundable $200,000 entry fee and a total of 3,000 signatures to have their names appear on the ballot and attend party debates.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2020.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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NewsAlert: Alberta files red-ink budget but says hope on horizon



EDMONTON — The Alberta budget remains mired in red ink, but doubles down on oil and gas and gives a boost to diversification.

Finance Minister Travis Toews is forecasting a $6.8-billion deficit this year on revenues of $50 billion.

Debt is expected to rise to almost $77 billion by the spring of 2021.

Toews says while unemployment remains stubbornly high at about seven per cent, he’s optimistic that new pipeline projects and higher exports will mean more revenues for Alberta’s lifeblood industry.

The province is also investing $200 million to encourage innovation and attract talent in cutting-edge industries such as artificial intelligence.

Toews says given that oil prices will always be volatile, Alberta will keep a close watch on its spending to make sure it gets back to  balanced books by 2023.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2020

The Canadian Press

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