Florida families emerged from shelters to find their neighborhoods leveled after the strongest storm since 1969 wreaked havoc. More than 375,000 people were issued mandatory evacuation orders, but many defied the calls.
Hurricane Michael left the US state of Florida battered and bruised on Thursday, as search-and-rescue teams set to work.
The storm had the lowest barometric reading of a hurricane to make landfall since 1969, making it the most intense storm to hit the continental US in half a century. Michael was also the most powerful hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle.
"So many lives have been changed forever," state Governor Rick Scott said. "So many families have lost everything. ... This hurricane was an absolute monster."
So far, at least six deaths have been attributed to the storm, four of which in Florida. However, vast swaths of property still remained leveled as rescue operations continued through the day and into the night.
Rescuers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) used dogs, drones and GPS in their search efforts.
Evacuation orders ignored
More than 375,000 people along the Gulf Coast were given mandatory evacuation orders, but many people defied the calls. Some areas remain out of reach to authorities.
Brock Long, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Mexico Beach was "ground zero" for damage. The town of 1,200 people was largely leveled, as it was hit by 155 miles an hour (250 kilometers an hour) winds and a storm surge of 9 feet (2.7 meters) from the category 4 hurricane.
Long said there could still be people trapped in the area, known for its small coastal towns and wildlife reserves. The full extent of the storm would only slowly become clear once emergency services access some of the hardest-to-reach areas.
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"We had houses that were on one side of the street and now they're on the other," said Mexico Beach Mayor Bo Patterson.
Patterson estimated that 1,000 homes were completely or partially destroyed in his town of 3,500 people.
Thousands without power
More than 900,000 homes and businesses in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas have been left without power. Several thousands National Guard troops, law enforcement officers and medical teams have been deployed in the recovery effort.
The storm has weakened but continues to travel over the Carolinas to the Atlantic Ocean, bringing with it heavy rains.
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Michael was losing its tropical characteristics and its wind speeds had reduced to 50 mph. However, the NHC warned that damaging winds and rainfall were still causing flash flooding across parts of North Carolina and southern Virginia.
dm, aw/ng (AP, Reuters, AFP)