Supercharged by abnormally warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle with terrifying winds of more than 249 km/h Wednesday, splintering homes and submerging neighbourhoods before continuing its march inland. Whole houses were moved off their foundations, roofs were peeled off, trees snapped, power lines felled.
After daylight Thursday, Florida residents took stock of the epic scale of the disaster. "I've' never seen anything like it".
Across the bay in Panama City Beach, a resort city on the Gulf of Mexico known for its white-sand beach and amusement parks, winds of about 100 miles per hour furiously whipped the trees in the early afternoon and pulled apart homes.
"We've begun search and rescue efforts". "We worked all night in endangered circumstances".
"We are catching some hell" was how a Panama City Beach resident who chose to ride it out described Michael as it made landfall. The area is known for its small beach towns, wildlife reserves and the state capital, Tallahassee.
The National Hurricane Centre warned of possible spinoff tornadoes and heavy rains in Alabama and Georgia, before the storm heads for SC, already soaked by Hurricane Florence in September.
Michael crossed Georgia with heavy winds overnight and, now a tropical storm, is headed to the Carolinas.
An official with an emergency management agency said Tropical Storm Michael is responsible for a child's death in Georgia.
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At least one person was killed when a tree crashed into his Greensboro, Florida home.
Rather than lingering in one region as Florence did, inundating the Carolinas with rain, Michael is expected to race north to Georgia by Thursday, and reach the coast of MA by the weekend, he said. The hurricane hit the Florida Panhandle as a category 4 storm.
"The wind that came through here was surreal". "Panama City, I don't know if there will be much left".
Among those brought to safety were nine people rescued by helicopter from a bathroom of their Panama City home after their roof collapsed, Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronald Hodges said.
"There are so many downed power lines and trees that it's nearly impossible to get through the city", Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson said.
Accuweather predicted Michael's total damage and economic impact will reach close to $30 billion, which would make it one of the 10 costliest hurricanes in USA history.
Large parts of Florida have suffered "unimaginable destruction" after the third-strongest hurricane in USA history slammed into the sunshine state. Only Hurricane Camille on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1969 and the so-called Labor Day hurricane of 1935 in the Florida Keys were more intense. So far that request has not been made, as Florida has 2,300 of its own Guard forces activated, and due to its long history with hurricanes, has aircraft and ground supplies set to respond.
Michael is the third strongest hurricane to ever hit the U.S. mainland and the strongest to impact the Florida Panhandle.