PANAMA CITY, Fla. (Reuters) - Hurricane Michael, the fiercest storm to hit Florida in more than 80 years and the third-most powerful ever to strike the U.S. mainland, battered the state’s Gulf coast on Wednesday with roof-shredding winds, raging surf and torrential rains. Michael, whose rapid intensification as it churned north over the Gulf of Mexico caught many by surprise, made landfall early in the afternoon near Mexico Beach, about 20 miles (32 km) southeast of Panama City in Florida’s Panhandle region, with top sustained winds reaching 155 miles per hour (249 kph). The storm came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson wind scale, the biggest storm on record to strike by Florida Panhandle. Its sustained winds were just 2 mph (3.2 kph) shy of an extremely rare Category 5. The storm’s intensity waned steadily as it pushed inland and curled northeasterly into Georgia after dark. It was downgraded to a Category 1 storm, with top sustained winds diminishing to 75 miles per hour (120 kph), about nine hours after it made landfall.