Wrath of Opal Reaches Inland To Crestview
CRESTVIEW, Fla. (AP) _ After raging across the sea with 150 mph winds, Hurricane Opal blustered ashore with a vengeance, sending trees and roofs flying and trashing a swath across the Florida Panhandle.
Even inland 30 miles, the fast-moving storm was vicious, killing a 76-year-old Crestview woman with a tornado that slammed into her mobile home on Wednesday.
More than half a million people lost power in Florida and Alabama.
``This is as devastating to this city as anything we’ve ever had,″ said Crestview fire Capt. Dwight Swing. ``We’ve got trees on houses, houses that have been destroyed by tornadoes, problems with natural gas lines, downed power lines and trees down on the road. It’s all over.″
Tens of thousands of people along a 150-mile stretch of Florida’s Gulf coast, from Pensacola to Wakulla Beach south of Tallahassee, fled in the face of Opal, which barreled down on the Panhandle with gusts up to 144 mph.
Once ashore, Opal lost her punch as quickly as she had built it up over the Gulf of Mexico, winding down by the time she hit Alabama early today. The storm killed at least 10 people in Mexico.
Families lined the hallways of a Crestview high school-turned-shelter overflowing with nearly 1,300 people, double the building’s capacity.
``You can’t turn them away now,″ American Red Cross worker Robert Kulvich said. Some evacuees even took up the offer of spending the night in jail, where there was cell space for 80 people.
Panama City Beach, a seaside resort usually bustling with tourists crowding beach-front hotels, bars and miniature golf courses, resembled a ghost town. Opal’s shrieking winds left a deck at the Beach Colony-Sand Dollar Inn in splinters and sent the T-shaped end of a 1,500-foot concrete pier crumbling into the sea.
Nearby, the front of a gas station was ripped away and crumpled like tissue paper. The storm blew out several store windows, with beach-wear escaping through one of them.
Live power wires sparked on the ground, and roofs and power transformers exploded in green-blue flames.
``It’s like the 4th of July,″ said Panama City firefighter Jimmy Talley.