• Wednesday, Mar 20, 2019
  • Last Update : 09:40 pm

Florida takes stock of devastation from Hurricane Michael

  • Published at 09:09 am October 11th, 2018
Hurricane Michael
Boats in a pile of rubble after Hurricane Michael hit Panama City, FloridaGetty Images North America/AFP

After being battered for nearly three hours by strong winds and heavy rains, roads in Panama City were virtually impassable

Tropical Storm Michael took its drenching rains to Georgia and the Carolinas on Thursday after devastating Florida's Panhandle, killing at least two people, reducing homes to rubble and ripping up power lines and tree.

Michael crashed ashore on Wednesday near the small town of Mexico Beach as the third most powerful hurricane ever to strike the US mainland, carrying winds of up to 250km/h and causing deep seawater flooding.

People look at a damaged store after Hurricane Michael ripped through Panama City, Florida | Getty Images North America/AFP

In large areas of Mexico Beach, homes were obliterated or reduced to stacks of rubble, aerial video from CNN showed on Thursday.

Brock Long, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, called the town "ground zero" for the hurricane damage.

One objective as recovery got under way was to help people who could be trapped in various areas along the coast, he told a news conference.

In Panama City, 32km/h northwest of Mexico Beach, buildings were crushed and boats were scattered around.

President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing on Hurricane Michael in the Oval Office of the White House | AFP

Michael had left a trail of utility wires on roads, flattened tall pine trees and knocked a steeple from a church.

It was a Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane intensity scale, just shy of a rare Category 5, when it came ashore. It weakened steadily as it traveled inland over the Panhandle.

Damage caused by Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida | AFP

By 8am EDT Thursday, it had been downgraded to a tropical storm with 85km/h winds as it pushed through Georgia into the Carolinas, the National Hurricane Center said.

The two people killed in the storm were a man who died when a tree toppled onto his house in Florida and a girl who died when debris fell into a home in Georgia, officials and local media said.

This NOAA/RAMMB satellite image shows Hurricane Michael as it approaches land near the US Gulf Coast | NOAA/RAMMB/AFP

More than 830,000 homes and businesses were without power in Florida, Alabama and Georgia early on Thursday.

The hurricane, the fiercest to hit Florida in 80 years, pummeled communities across the Panhandle and turned streets into roof-high waterways.

People seek safety in a shelter as Hurricane Michael approaches Panama City, Florida | AFP

Thousands of people hunkered down in shelters overnight after fleeing their homes ahead of the storm.

An estimated 6,000 people evacuated to emergency shelters, mostly in Florida, and that number was expected to swell to 20,000 across five states by week's end, said Brad Kieserman of the American Red Cross.

Michael had rapidly intensified as it churned north over the Gulf of Mexico in recent days, growing from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane in about 40 hours and catching many by surprise.

The forecast trajectory of Hurricane Michael | AFP

US President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for all of Florida, freeing federal assistance to supplement state and local disaster responses.

About 3,500 Florida National Guard troops were deployed, along with more than 1,000 search-and-rescue personnel, Governor Scott said.

A man walks down a street after Hurricane Michael hit Panama City, Florida | AFP