As Hurricane Michael slammed into Mexico Beach and other Florida Panhandle communities Wednesday, visitors to Manasota Key checked out the churning Gulf waves as they hunted for shells and sharks’ teeth.

Some kids ran in the surf and played in sea foam, dyed tan by organic matter churned up in the Gulf of Mexico that was blown to shore in the gusting winds.

High winds struck the area Tuesday night and early Wednesday as Hurricane Michael made its way through the Gulf. Residents reported minor damage in Boca Grande. By mid-day Wednesday, bands of storms associated with the hurricane meant frequent showers and warm, moist air from the south.

On Wednesday afternoon, two water spouts were reported near Sarasota. County officials feared more of the shoreline would be eroded. On Wednesday, it proved true. Some of the 500 tons of sand added to the Lido Beach in August washed away along four-foot high bags used to prevent storm surge. Erosion was reported on Manasota Key near Englewood as well.

Fearing safety issues, Sarasota County Schools canceled all after- school events, activities, competitions and practices and the digital town hall meeting planned for Wednesday night. Charlotte County public schools had no hurricane-related cancellations.

Meanwhile, more than a thousand electrical workers for Florida Power & Light gathered from around the region in the parking lot outside Robarts Arena in Sarasota. With word that more than 170,000 residents in the panhandle were without power, the power crews were ready to be deployed as soon as the winds died down.

On Wednesday, the Salvation Army established a command center in Tampa to mobilize incident management teams, some from Charlotte and Sarasota counties, set to go to the Florida Panhandle to bring mobile feeding kitchens and trained personnel with supplies.

“Many of our teams from across Florida have spent the past few weeks serving people impacted by Hurricane Florence, and they are now faced with preparing their families and homes for Hurricane Michael,” wrote Steven Hartsook, Emergency Disaster Services director for The Salvation Army in a statement.

The SunCoast Blood Bank is also gearing up to help hospitals and other emergency rooms in need of blood. The blood bank is asking for types O positive and O negative in response to anticipated needs and shortages due to Hurricane Michael. The BloodMobile will be at Gulf Cove United Methodist Church, 1100 S. McCall Road, Port Charlotte (Gulf Cove Area) from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Red tide concerns

John Dillion went to Englewood Beach Wednesday to see the 12-foot waves, but didn’t dare go in the water. He doesn’t believe Englewood Beach is safe yet following nearly a year-long bout of red tide.

“There were like 50 plus people walking in the water and there was even a group of people having a cookout, I was like ‘ummm’ I hope you like your hot dogs and Busch lights with a little toxic waste,” he wrote on Facebook.

Diver Curt Bowen believes Hurricane Michael’s high waves will help the Gulf.

“I think the storm pushed the red tide and the anoxic bottom (of Gulf waters) north,” Bowen said. “I think it will move or eliminate the dead zone choking everything off the bottom of the Gulf and possibly air-rate the anoxic water there back to breathable water.”

In the past month, Bowen dove from Bradenton to Boca Grande. He posts videos of his dives, including one at Manasota Key showing a dead manatee. He discovered decaying fish, no large schools of fish, and lots of green and yellow water throughout area. He attributes the poor health of the water to red tide.

“Once the waves break and it’s safe, we will be back in the water on the bottom taking a look,” Bowen said. “The damage of killing everything is done, this storm will not bring back the life lost, but it could remove the dead water so new life can start.”

For Manasota Beach resident Cheryl Carey, her 6 a.m. Wednesday walk was met with the smell of fish in the windy air.

“I had throat irritation, and a pretty significant headache,” she said. “I have a fear that this storm is going to make things worse. I’m losing hope here.”

By Wednesday afternoon, a salty haze drifted over Englewood, Stump Pass, Blind Pass and Manasota beaches. That didn’t stop tourists, families and others from lining the beaches.

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