Near 850,000 customers without power in U.S. Southeast after Michael

Florida

MEXICO BEACH, FL - OCTOBER 09: Carol Cathey spray paints the words "Calm down Michael" on the plywood over her daughter's business in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Michael on October 9, 2018 in Mexico Beach, Florida.

The sky cleared on Thursday.

Linda Burton returned to Parker, a town of about 4,300 northwest of Mexico Beach, from a storm haven in Alabama to find her motorhome had been destroyed by falling trees.

Outside, she said in a phone interview, she could see remnants of people's lives strewn about: refrigerators, a beanbag chair, a washing machine, a kayak and a dresser. "We're happy to be alive".

For news organizations, Thursday was a race to get to Mexico Beach, considered the hardest-hit community by the strikingly potent storm.

Entire blocks of homes near the beach were obliterated, reduced to nothing but concrete slabs in the sand.

The third-most powerful hurricane to hit the US mainland in recorded history left a wide path of destruction across Florida and Georgia, destroying homes and shopping centers and felling trees that killed at least two people.

Hit head-on by Hurricane Michael, numerous homes in this resort town of about 1,190 people were shattered or ripped from their foundations. Becker said about 55 people were in the shelters early Thursday.

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

3,500: Number of Florida National Guard troops activated for pre-landfall coordination and planning, with an emphasis on high water and search-and-rescue operations. Gale to storm-force winds are predicted to hit parts of Virginia, North Carolina and the Delmarva Peninsula as Michael turns post-tropical.

"First the cars started floating by, and all the debris was in the air", Mexico Beach resident Scott said.

Al Hancock, 45, who works on a tour boat, survived in Panama City with his wife and dog.

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"The damage to our infrastructure is the most widespread and severe we've ever experienced", city officials wrote in a tweet.

The National Hurricane Center says the core of Michael will move across eastern Georgia into Central South Carolina on Thursday morning.

Florida Governor Rick Scott told the Weather Channel the damage from Panama City down to Mexico Beach was "way worse than anybody ever anticipated". Last year, they welcomed children who were displaced by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

"The kids live nearby".

Vance Beu, 29, was satying with his mother at her apartment, Spring Gate Apartments, a small complex of single-story wood frame apartment buildings. The streets closest to the water looked as if a bomb had gone off.

At least two deaths have been reported from Michael, which made landfall on Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 storm and has since been downgraded to a tropical storm as it moves into the Carolinas.

The storm was on track to make an expected exit into the Atlantic Ocean by Friday morning, with some parts of Virginia and North Carolina expected to see as much as nine inches of rain, bringing the likelihood for unsafe flooding.

Hundreds of thousands of people were ordered to evacuate their homes and the governor told residents who had not done so to "hunker down and be careful".

Mexico Beach is on the west end of what is sometimes called Florida's Forgotten Coast, so named because it is not heavily developed like numerous state's other shoreline areas, with their lavish homes and high-rise condos and hotels.

Hurricane-force winds extended up to 45 miles (75 kilometres) from Michael's centre at the height of the storm. Wind damage was also evident. By nightfall, the city was under curfew, darkened without power, its streets littered with downed power lines, fallen trees and debris.

Scott said one benefit of the rapidly moving Michael was that it hit during the day and was out of the state before sunset.

Michael is also now threatening the Carolinas.

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