The Associated Press
PANAMA CITY, Fla.–Search-and-rescue teams fanned out across the Florida Panhandle to reach trapped people in Michael’s wake today as daylight yielded scenes of rows upon rows of houses smashed to pieces by the third-most powerful hurricane on record to hit the continental U.S.
At least two deaths were blamed on Michael–and it wasn’t done yet.
Though weakened into a tropical storm, it continued to bring heavy rain and blustery winds to the U.S. Southeast as it pushed inland, soaking areas still recovering from last month’s Hurricane Florence.
Under a perfectly clear blue sky, Florida families emerged tentatively from darkened shelters and hotels to an unfamiliar and perilous landscape of shattered homes and shopping centres, beeping security alarms, wailing sirens, and hovering helicopters.
More than 900,000 homes and businesses in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas were without power.
“This morning, Florida’s Gulf Coast and Panhandle and the Big Bend are waking up to unimaginable destruction,” Gov. Rick Scott said.
“So many lives have been changed forever,” he noted. “So many families have lost everything. . . .
“This hurricane was an absolute monster.”
But the full extent of the damage only was slowly becoming clear, with some of the worst areas difficult to reach.
One of the hardest-hit spots was Mexico Beach, where Michael crashed ashore yesterday as a Category 4 monster with 155 m.p.h. (250 km/h) winds.
Video from a CNN helicopter today revealed widespread devastation across the town of about 1,000 people.
Entire blocks of homes near the beach were washed away, leaving nothing but concrete slabs in the sand.
Rows and rows of other homes were reduced to piles of debris or crumpled and slumped at odd angles.
Scott said the U.S. National Guard got into Mexico Beach and rescued 20 people who survived the direct hit.
The town was under a mandatory evacuation order as the rapidly-developing storm closed in, but some people were determined to ride it out.
A day later, the beach town remained difficult to reach by land, with roads covered by fallen trees, power lines, and other debris.
The governor pleaded with people in Florida not to go home yet.
“I know you just want to go home. You want to check on things and begin the recovery process,” Scott said.
But “we have to make sure things are safe.”