What looks ghastly on the ground in the wake of Hurricane Michael looks absolutely apocalyptic from up above.
Satellite images released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration after the storm crashed ashore near Mexico Beach on Thursday reveal not only its power, but its reach: surging ocean waters that ripped up roads and cleaved new channels, entire neighborhoods blown away and sea bottom carried across forest floors.
Such images can provide an easy way to scale a storm’s impact, especially when roads are impassable. Damage from Hurricane Irma was simple to trace moving up and down the Overseas Highway in the Keys.
But images from the Gulf shoreline after the first Cat 4 on record to strike the Panhandle seem all the more harrowing for their mixture of blue-collar beach towns and sweeping wilderness.
Michael carved two new channels across Cape San Blas, a 17-mile barrier island that fingers into the Gulf of Mexico west of Apalachicola known for low-key vacations scallop-hunting and horseback riding in the surf.
In Mexico Beach, ground zero for the wreckage, piles of lumber and rubble in place of square rooftops.
Along St. Joe Beach, where tourist ads boast quietness as a selling point, Michael widened the beach and rerouted a channel.
Authorities are just beginning to assess the damage, but early estimates put losses at more than $8 billion. Real estate analysts said about 57,000 homes in the storm’s path were at risk before it hit. Whether the shoreline returns to its former state remains to be seen.