Florida Panhandle dealerships take a significant hit from Hurricane Michael

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At least six storm-related deaths in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina have been confirmed. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

UPDATED: 10/11/2018 5:08 pm ET – corrected

Editor's note: an earlier version of this story misunderstood the ongoing winds of Hurricane Michael.

Hurricane Michael mistreated car dealers along Florida's panhandle with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph, but it was too early on Thursday to assess the total devastation of retailers due to widespread power outages.

The category 4 storm traveled at night through the Panhandle, a corner of Alabama and Southwest Georgia, leaving hundreds of thousands of inhabitants without power. On Thursday, a day after Michael struck, communities in the area were faced with significant flooding and debris. At least six storm-related deaths in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina have been confirmed, according to The Weather Channel.

Ted Smith, president of the Florida Automobile Dealers Association, said on Thursday that he did not yet know the extent of the dealer destruction and accused his limited access to Panhandle stores about widespread power outages and extensive tree damage. Smith, who was evacuated three days before the storm hit, said he could not evaluate his office in Tallahassee on Thursday because Interstate 10 was closed, as well as other major highways, because of the destructive winds and floods of the storm.

"The biggest challenges at the moment are survival, limited contact with dealers, lack of access to road and ensuring safety for dealers' dealers," Smith said. "In my opinion there is extensive tree damage from Fort Walton Beach to Pensacola, with hurricanes in Florida, you have to worry about the tornadoes that follow after the hurricane strikes, because that is when much of the strong wind damage occurs. "

In addition, Smith advised dealerships to contact him via his mobile number 850-224-2580, because he is immediately available to help. He plans to find office facilities, generators and other resources to help affected dealers so that they can quickly open business operations.

Chris Cramer of Bill Cramer Chevrolet-Buick-GMC said that everyone he spoke to in Panama City said the area looks like "scorched earth". He and his family evacuated Tuesday night when it became clear that the storm was building up to a category 4 hurricane.

Some of the 130 employees of the store stayed in the area and some have lost everything, said Cramer. Some still wait for the words of lovers on the path of the storm.

Cramer said that his store "has considerable damage" – almost entirely due to the strong wind of the hurricane. He has lost shingles and tiles, has broken glass and part of the department wall has gone.

The dealership now works on generator power and is preparing to serve customers in the area who have damage to their vehicles. Cramer said that the dealer also ensures that employees are fully paid during the down period.

"That's not something they should worry about," he said.

Cramer's dealer business is located further west than most others in the city. "From what I hear and see [online], others are very badly hit, "he said.

CarMax said in an e-mail that it is the locations Mobile, Ala. And Columbus, Go. Reopened on Thursday. On the basis of the retailer's first assessment, they have passed "little to no damage", but they will continue to assess the situation. CarMax closed stores in Tallahassee and Pensacola, Fla., As well as a store in Dothan, Ala., On Tuesday.

Like many retailers in the area, CarMax said that its greatest concern is the safety of those in the communities that were destroyed by the storm.

"The health and safety of our employees and customers is our top priority, and we reopen stores when it is safe to do so." We are committed to helping our communities recover from Hurricane Michael, "said Darren Newberry, CarMax's senior vice president of store operations.

Melissa Burden and David Muller contributed to this report.