PANAMA CITY, Fla. — The devastation inflicted by Hurricane Michael came into focus Thursday with rows upon rows of homes found smashed to pieces, and rescue crews began making their way into the stricken areas in hopes of accounting for hundreds of people who may have stayed behind.
At least three deaths were blamed on Michael, the most powerful hurricane to hit the continental U.S. in over 50 years, and it wasn't done yet: Though reduced to a tropical storm, it brought flash flooding to North Carolina and Virginia, soaking areas still recovering from Hurricane Florence.
Under a perfectly clear blue sky, families living along the Florida Panhandle emerged from darkened shelters and hotels to a perilous landscape of shattered homes and shopping centers, beeping security alarms, wailing sirens and hovering helicopters.
Gov. Rick Scott said the Panhandle woke up to "unimaginable destruction."Gallery: Hurricane Michael
An insurance company that produces models for catastrophes is estimating Hurricane Michael caused about $8 billion in insured losses.
Boston-based Karen Clark & Company released the estimate Thursday. It includes the privately insured wind and storm surge damage to residential, commercial and industrial properties and automobiles. The figure does not include losses covered by the National Flood Insurance Program.
Michael made landfall as a 155 mph, Category 4 storm Wednesday afternoon in Mexico Beach, Florida. The hurricane left a path of destruction through the Florida Panhandle and entered Georgia as a Category 3 storm.
KCC estimates that nearly half of insured loss from Michael occurred in Florida's Bay and Gulf counties. Total damages from storm surge are estimated to be $3.7 billion, of which about ten percent will be insured.
Fast-moving Michael was leaving North Carolina behind with rivers rising and more than 530,000 households in the dark.
Gov. Roy Cooper's office said the power outages were concentrated in central North Carolina's Piedmont region, as trees and power lines toppled under the pressure of winds of up to 60 mph.
Heavy rains dumping up to 7 inches in some areas were making flooding a serious threat.
Flash flooding was snarling the state's two largest cities, Charlotte and Raleigh, as well as the university town of Chapel Hill. Dozens of swift water rescues and evacuations were needed in the Piedmont region as well as the state's mountains and foothills.
State officials say Hurricane Michael left Florida's largest psychiatric hospital "entirely cut off."
A spokesman with the Florida Department of Children and Families says Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee has been running on emergency generators. A helicopter dropped water and food at the facility on Thursday after a tree downed during the storm caused a water line to break.
Landlines and cellphones are also down at the hospital, which has nearly 1,000 residents and more than 300 staff. Staff are using emergency radios to stay in contact with first responders.
Many roads in and around the facility are blocked, but 50 staff from two other state mental health facilities are being brought in to assist.
Patients at the facility have been committed involuntarily either through civil or criminal cases.
As Tropical Storm Michael rolls across North Carolina, it's continuing to produce life-threatening flash flooding and powerful winds.
The National Weather Service said the storm was centered about 20 miles northwest of Raleigh at 4 p.m. Thursday and heading northeast at 24 mph with winds of up to 50 mph. It was expected to keep on the same track but head even faster and cross into Virginia during the evening.
Michael was sending dangerous wind gusts over portions of Virginia and central and eastern North Carolina.
Tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 230 miles mainly over water to the southeast of the center.
Read Friday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.
North Carolina's electric utilities reported over 390,000 outages at 5 p.m., as a weakened but still formidable Michael gusted through the state.
A large number of the power outages were in a swath from Greensboro and Winston-Salem southwest to Charlotte. Duke Energy alone reported about 307,000 of these outages.
Earlier Thursday, North Carolina authorities said a driver has died after a tree fell on his car as Michael's wind and rain lashed the state.
It happened in Iredell County, north of Charlotte, where authorities have reported strong winds and numerous roads closed by flash flooding.
The storm came ashore on Florida's Gulf coast as a Category 4 hurricane before weakening to tropical storm status over Georgia.
After reports of several possible tornadoes touching down in Georgia, National Weather Service crews are going out to examine the sites.
Weather Service meteorologist Matt Sena said Thursday they include sites in Pike, Peach and Crawford counties and an area near Atlanta in Fulton County.
In Roberta, in Crawford County, Hill Bentley said he saw spinning clouds that looked like a tornado Wednesday.
"I told my wife, Judy, 'Come on out, you want to see what a tornado looks like?'"
Bentley's home wasn't hit, but his friend Bradley Lewis wasn't so lucky. Dozens of fallen pines littered Lewis' front and back yards and his roof and back porch were damaged, but he was uninjured.
"Kaboom! Like the world moved or something," Lewis said of the moment when the trees snapped while he sheltered inside.
North Carolina authorities say a driver has died after a tree fell on his car as Michael's wind and rain lashed the state.
The accident happened in Iredell County, north of Charlotte, where authorities have reported strong winds and numerous roads closed by flash flooding.
Kent Greene, the county's director of emergency management and fire services, said in an email that the man died Thursday after his car was struck by a tree on a highway east of Statesville.
Greene confirmed the death was storm-related. He wasn't able to immediately release the man's age or identity.
The sheriff's office has urged people to stay off the roads until the storm and its after-effects clear.
Meanwhile, the state is reporting nearly 220,000 power outages, with many in the Charlotte area.
A Florida hurricane expert says officials need to study why so many people refuse to evacuate ahead of a deadly storm such as Hurricane Michael.
Craig Fugate is former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a former emergency management chief for the state of Florida.
Fugate is skeptical of reports that 285 people refused to obey mandatory evacuation orders, though he did not doubt that many people in the Panhandle felt like they could not afford to evacuate or thought the storm would not hit so hard.
He said: "Why people didn't evacuate is something we should be studying ... Is there more the government can do? But we ask that every time."
He also said preventing more devastation in future hurricanes depends on people abandoning arguments that stringent building codes make homes too costly or difficult to build.
He called that "the realistic future Florida must face." He added, "We have to build better, more resilient homes so hurricanes aren't so devastating. It's not that we don't know how to build them."
Forecasters say Tropical Storm Michael is speeding over the Carolinas on its way to the Atlantic Ocean.
The National Hurricane Center said the storm is moving northeast at 23 mph with top sustained winds have dropped to 50 mph.
Forecasters said Michael's heavy rains are causing flash flooding across parts of North Carolina and southern Virginia. Up to 7 inches of rain could fall in some parts of the the two states.
At 1 p.m., the storm was centered about 25 miles south of Greensboro, N.C. It was expected to emerge over the ocean Thursday night.
Florida's governor is asking for a two-week delay in a debate with the Democratic incumbent in the U.S. Senate race so he can focus on response and recovery from Hurricane Michael.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott issued a statement Thursday asking CNN to postpone the debate with Sen. Bill Nelson, which was originally scheduled Oct. 16.
Scott cited "catastrophic destruction caused by Hurricane Michael" and said he's certain Nelson agrees the response should be a priority.
He said: "We appreciate CNN understanding the dire situation in North Florida," and added that Scott "will have no time for campaigning in the next few weeks as he focuses exclusively on recovery efforts for the foreseeable future."
Virginia's governor has declared a state of emergency in anticipation of Hurricane Michael's remnant passing through the state.
Gov. Ralph Northam issued the declaration Thursday and urged Virginians to prepare for possible flash floods, strong winds, tornadoes and power outages.
Northam said the declaration would also allow Virginia to help neighboring states deal with cleaning up after Michael.
Michael was downgraded to a tropical storm after slamming into the Florida panhandle Wednesday.
Deadly tornadoes hit Virginia last month as the remains of Hurricane Florence made its way over the state.
The Florida resort city of Panama City Beach appears to have escaped the worst of Hurricane Michael.
While houses along the city's beachfront had broken windows and missing shingles, the destruction was nowhere near that sustained by Mexico Beach or even Panama City, just 10 miles to the east.
Panama City Beach's streets were remarkably free of sand and falling trees, the kind of debris making rescue and recovery efforts so difficult in other areas hit by the storm.
Michael roared ashore Wednesday as a powerful Category 4 hurricane near Mexico Beach, rendering the town nearly unrecognizable.
Panama City Beach was mostly empty Thursday because residents and tourists alike heeded the evacuation order. The city had no electricity at 12 p.m. Thursday but few power lines were down.
The power is still out for most customers in Tallahassee. People love the trees in Florida's state capital, where canopy roads have large oak trees on both sides of some streets that branch out and meet each other above the traffic.
The area also has above-ground utility lines and often loses power when branches fall during severe storms.
Many of these trees were lost to Hurricane Michael, but the city has quickly cleared them from the busiest roadways. Grocery stores, gas stations and drug stores are open and running on generator power, traffic is busy despite police warning people to stay off the roads so utility crews can better restore power.
Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida will remain closed while officials assess what they're calling "widespread catastrophic damage" from Hurricane Matthew.
Base leaders say no injuries were reported, but an initial assessment found roof damage to "nearly every home" on the base, which is very near where the center of the Category 4 storm made landfall.
Col. Brian Laidlaw, commander of the 325th Fighter Wing, said on Facebook that "Tyndall residents and evacuated personnel should remain at their safe location." His mandatory evacuation order applied to some 600 families living on the base. He later warned personnel to make plans for an extended time away.
Laidlaw says they're "developing plans to reunite families" and "provide safe passage back to base housing."
The western part of North Carolina is being lashed by bands of rain from Hurricane Michael, causing some water rescues and a landslide that closed a road.
Gov. Roy Cooper urged all residents to be on alert as the storm blows through the state. He said officials were monitoring several rivers for potential flooding in the central, eastern and western parts of the state, though not the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Florence last month.
In western North Carolina's Henderson County, emergency services director Jimmy Brissie said first responders have been busy since the early morning helping people in cars trapped in high water and residents who need help leaving low-lying areas.
He said about 20 people were pulled out of neighborhoods inundated by flash flooding. He said he's not aware of any injuries.
McDowell County emergency services director Adrienne Jones said a landslide closed a road, and a swift-water rescue crew pulled a man to safety in Buncombe County. In Asheville, two people in a hammock who found themselves surrounded by floodwater were pulled onto an inflatable boat.
Thousands of National Guard troops, law enforcement officers and medical teams are working their way into damaged communities to search for survivors of Hurricane Michael.
What authorities don't want are evacuees trying to come back to check on their properties. Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said residents aren't being allowed past checkpoints until crews clean up downed power lines and trees.
Florida emergency officials said the devastation is so massive that it remains unclear if people who ignored evacuation orders were killed.
Authorities said that 285 people in Mexico Beach refused to leave, and many homes in that community were washed away. A National Guard team found 20 survivors there overnight, and more crews were working through the wreckage Thursday.
Hospitals and nursing homes are so damaged in the Panama City area that ambulances and helicopters are being used to ferry patients elsewhere.
Michael remained a hurricane for 12 hours and 200 miles as it moved over Florida and Georiga, and other teams are looking at reports of possible tornado damage well inland.
Experts at the National Hurricane Center say Hurricane Michael's devastating storm surge reached as high as 14 feet in some areas of Florida's Gulf coast.
The center's storm surge unit said Thursday that peak storm surge ranged from 9 feet to 14 feet from Mexico Beach east through Apalachee Bay.
Officials said the highest storm surge hit near Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe, based on available observations and post-landfall models.
Officials had been warning that the surge of water pushed by the storm could be as serious as the hurricane's punishing winds. The threat of the storm prompted local officials to order mandatory evacuations in several Florida coastal counties.
A coroner has identified the 11-year-old girl who was killed as Hurricane Michael blew through south Georgia.
Seminole County coroner Chad Smith on Thursday identified the girl as Sarah Radney.
Smith said an official cause of death had not been determined but that it would likely be massive blunt force trauma.
Seminole County Emergency Management Agency director Travis Brooks said strong winds picked up a portable carport Wednesday and dropped it down on the roof of the home where the girl was inside. One of the carport's legs punctured the roof and hit the girl in the head.
Seminole County is in the southwest corner of Georgia.
The largest hospitals in Panama City are shutting down and evacuating patients due to heavy damage from Hurricane Michael.
Officials at Bay Medical Sacred Heart announced that they're transferring about 200 patients to hospitals in Pensacola and Jacksonville, and to Mobile, Ala.
Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center said it has suspended all services and is evacuating patients as well.
Sacred Heart's statement said the transfers began at 3 a.m. Thursday with 39 critical care patients and would take about 48 hours to complete.
Damage at Sacred Heart includes blown-out windows, a cracked exterior wall and a roof collapse in a maintenance building that stores supplies necessary for long-term care. The hospital said no patients were injured and its emergency room remains open on generator power.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is urging people in the Hurricane Michael disaster area to "be patient." He said emergency crews need to do their work to clear debris from roadways and restore power to hundreds of thousands of residents. Deal said about 450,000 power outages were reported in Georgia, and one death, that of an 11-year-old girl in the southwest corner of the state.
Deal said the primary mission at this point is to clear roadways so that officials can assess the damage.
Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black predicted long-lasting damage to the state's farms. He said pecan crops are badly affected and entire fields of cotton are completely wiped out.
A federal judge is rejecting a push to extend Florida's voter registration deadline because of Hurricane Michael, saying there's "no justification" to do so.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled late Wednesday against the Florida Democratic Party, which called the Republican-led response to the storm's disruption confusing and inadequate.
Florida's deadline to register to vote was Tuesday, 29 days ahead of the Nov. 6 election.
Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner told local election supervisors that if their offices were closed Tuesday due to the hurricane, then they could accept paper applications for a single day once their offices reopen.
Tropical Storm Michael is drenching the Carolinas with heavy rains as it heads toward the Atlantic Ocean.
The National Hurricane Center says the storm's top sustained winds have dropped to 50 mph.
At 10 a.m., the storm was centered about 35 miles south-southeast of Charlotte, N.C. It was expected to emerge over the ocean Thursday night.
Forecasters say Michael remains a large weather system, with tropical storm-force winds extending up to 185 miles from its center.
Michael could drop up to 7 inches over parts of the Carolinas and southeastern Virginia.
Most hurricanes quickly fall apart as they move over land. Not Michael. The third-most powerful hurricane on record to hit the U.S. mainland carved a path of destruction for roughly 200 miles from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico before its top sustained winds dropped to tropical-storm strength.
The National Hurricane Center says Michael did not lose its hurricane status until early Thursday, when its winds finally dropped below 74 mph near Browndale in central Georgia.
Based on its internal barometric pressure, Michael was the third most powerful hurricane to make landfall, behind the unnamed Labor Day storm of 1935 and Camille in 1969. Based on wind speed, it was the fourth-strongest, behind the Labor Day storm, Camille and Andrew in 1992.
Michael had top sustained winds of 155 mph when it hit Mexico Beach on Wednesday.
It's down to a tropical storm now as it moves over the Carolinas, but forecasters expect it to strengthen again once it moves over the Atlantic.
South Carolina is getting heavy rains and gusty winds as Tropical Storm Michael speeds through.
But officials aren't seeing anything like the damage inflicted by Hurricane Florence last month.
Authorities say about 150,000 South Carolina customers are without power. Trees are downed, and there's minor flash flooding, including standing water that closed ramps onto Interstates 85 and 385 in Greenville.
Waves were hitting the top of the Charleston Battery, but the city wasn't reporting the kind of widespread flooding it gets several times a year.
The National Weather Service says winds along the coast gusted to nearly 60 mph and parts of Chesterfield County already had 4 to 6 inches of rain with more to come. Parts of the county saw more than 20 inches of rain in Florence. Areas to the east that were hit even harder by Florence's flooding are reporting much less rain from Michael.
Gov. Rick Scott says people from Florida's Panhandle to the Big Bend woke up to "unimaginable destruction." He said Hurricane Michael has changed lives forever, and "many families have lost everything." He added: "this hurricane was an absolute monster."
Florida officials also said Florida's big mental hospital in Chattahoochee is "entirely cut off" by land, so they're dropping food and supplies in from the air. The mental hospital has a section that houses the criminally insane, but they say the facility itself has not been breached.
In Panama City, Bay County emergency management officials said most roads remained blocked by water or debris Thursday morning, so survivors in the should "stay put and standby."
As for people outside the disaster zone, they're asking people moved by images of the destruction to make monetary donations to relief organizations, rather than sending supplies.
Gov. Rick Scott says the Florida National Guard got into Mexico Beach and found 20 people who survived a direct hit from Hurricane Michael.
The town where the hurricane made landfall Wednesday remained very difficult to reach by land a day later, with roads covered by fallen trees, power lines and other storm debris.
Overhead video from a CNN helicopter Thursday morning reveals widespread devastation across the town of about 1,000 people.
Entire blocks of homes near the beach have been washed away, leaving nothing but concrete slabs in the sand. Rows and rows of other homes are smashed to pieces or crunched to the ground and leaning at odd angles.
The town was under a mandatory evacuation order as the rapidly developing storm targeted the coast, but some people were determined to ride out the hurricane.
Utilities in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama reported that more than 932,000 customers were without power in the wake of Hurricane Michael.
Nearly half of those affected were in Florida, which bore the brunt of Michael — the most powerful storm on record to hit the state's Panhandle. It left widespread destruction as it crossed into Georgia toward the Carolinas, a region still reeling from epic flooding in Hurricane Florence.
The Category 4 storm made landfall Wednesday afternoon amid beach resorts and coastal communities, packing 155 mph winds.
Michael thrashed Georgia as a hurricane and eventually weakened to a tropical storm early Thursday. Despite the downgrade, the storm was still pounding the Southeast with heavy rains, winds, and a threat of spinoff tornadoes.
The Army Corps of Engineers is sending in generators to help get power to storm-ravaged areas, and teams to start clearing debris and begin building temporary roofs.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said officials were just starting to go in and survey the damage but expect power to be out for weeks in some areas. Hurricane Michael made landfall in Mexico Beach, just down the coast of Panama City, and left a wide path of destruction in its wake.
Long said: "Mexico Beach took the brunt; that's probably ground zero."
Red Cross officials say 7,800 people were in 100 shelters across three states. They said it's still not clear how many people stayed put and would need to be rescued.
Emergency officials in South Carolina are reporting no injuries or deaths so far as Tropical Storm Michael moves across the state.
Emergency Management Division spokesman Derrec Becker said thousands of people lost power though, and 10 shelters are open for people seeking safety from the storm. Becker said about 55 people were in the shelters early Thursday.
The Talmadge Bridge on U.S. 17 over the Savannah River between Savannah, Ga., and South Carolina remains closed because of the threat of high winds on the suspension bridge.
Some other highways are still closed because of flooding and damage from Hurricane Florence last month.
Waves of search and rescue teams are fanning out across the Florida Panhandle looking for people who rode out Hurricane Michael.
The U.S. Coast Guard in Mobile, Ala., said its crews have rescued 27 people, mostly from damaged homes.
Petty Officer Third Class Ronald Hodges told The Associated Press that a Jayhawk rescue helicopter crew pulled nine people from a bathroom of their Panama City home after their roof collapsed Wednesday afternoon.
Crews were out early Thursday searching for more victims. He said the number of rescues remains fluid and there were no reports of deaths so far from the Coast Guard's missions.
Florida emergency officials said they're starting to transfer patients out of damaged health care facilities. They're also trying to figure out the extent of damage to roads and bridges. A large swath of Interstate 10, the main east-west route near the coast, is blocked off due to damage.
Authorities are correcting early reports about the death of an 11-year-old girl as Hurricane Michael blew over southwest Georgia.
Seminole County Emergency Management Agency director Travis Brooks said it wasn't a tree but a carport that hit her home and killed her.
He said strong winds picked up a portable carport Wednesday and dropped it down on the roof. One of the carport's legs punctured the roof and hit the 11-year-old girl in the head.
Brooks said he wasn't able to get out much overnight to fully assess the damage in the county, because downed power lines and trees made roads impassable in the darkness. But he said the sheriff told him it looked like a bomb had gone off.
Michael is now centered over South Carolina and is still a tropical storm after a long land journey over the southeastern United States.
A day after slamming into Florida's Gulf Coast as a strong Category 4 hurricane, Michael still had top sustained winds of 50 mph and higher gusts, with tropical storm-force winds reaching 160 miles from its center.
As of 7 a.m. Thursday, the storm was about 40 miles west-northwest of Columbia, S.C., moving northeast at 21 mph. It's expected to keep blowing across central and eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia before crossing into the Atlantic Ocean by late Thursday or early Friday.
And at that point, forecasters expect Michael to strengthen again over open water.
Fires still burned in the early morning darkness the day after Hurricane Michael made landfall in Mexico Beach, a Florida Gulf Coast beach town that doesn't usually get much attention. Michael pushed a 10-foot storm surge and 155 mph winds, just shy of a Category 5 hurricane, and Mexico Beach got the worst of it.
A reporter and photojournalist from the Tampa Bay Times ventured there in the dark early Thursday, finding the town of about 1,000 almost impassable. They reported seeing many destroyed homes, some with staircases leading to doors suspended 10 feet in the air with nothing on the other side, entire structures washed away. Refrigerators and toilets and piles of soggy furniture are strewn across properties.
And amid the wreckage, the crew spotted survivors — people who rode out the storm. One couple was looking for their mother's portable oxygen machine. Another man was shining a flashlight from his balcony as alarms sounded and fires burned.
The Florida Highway Patrol has closed an 80-mile stretch of Interstate 10 to clear debris from Hurricane Michael.
In an email sent early Thursday, spokesman Eddie Elmore said the road was closed "due to extremely hazardous conditions."
The agency is working with the Florida Department of Transportation to clear the interstate which is the major east-west route across northern Florida and the Panhandle.
Elmore said the road is closed west of Tallahassee, between mile marker 85 near DeFuniak Springs and mile marker 166 near Lake Seminole.
The email didn't say how long the work was expected to take.
Tropical Storm Michael continues to weaken as it over eastern Georgia as it makes its way toward the Carolinas. Early Thursday, the eye of Michael was about 90 miles northeast of Macon, Ga., and 45 miles west of Augusta. The storm's maximum sustained winds have decreased to 50 mph, and it was moving to the northeast at 21 mph.
The National Hurricane Center said the core of Michael will move across eastern Georgia into central South Carolina on Thursday morning. It will then move across portions of central and eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia into the Atlantic Ocean by late Thursday or early Friday.
An official with an emergency management agency says Tropical Storm Michael is responsible for a child's death in Georgia.
News outlets reported Seminole County Emergency Management Agency Director Travis Brooks said someone called 911 as the storm passed through the area and reported the death. WMAZ-TV quoted Brooks as saying a tree fell onto a home Wednesday afternoon and killed an 11-year-old girl. Authorities have not released her identity.
Brooks said responding crews reached the home after nightfall due to clear downed power lines, poles and trees.
Early Thursday, the eye of Michael was about 25 miles east of Macon in central Georgia. The storm had top sustained winds of 60 mph and was moving to the northeast at 20 mph.
The National Hurricane Center said the core of Michael will move across central and eastern Georgia on Thursday morning and then over southern and central South Carolina later in the day.
Hurricane Michael's battering waves swamped streets and docks and shrieking winds splintered trees and rooftops. The most powerful hurricane on record to hit Florida's Panhandle left widespread destruction and wasn't finished Thursday as it crossed Georgia toward the Carolinas, a region still reeling from epic flooding in Hurricane Florence.
Authorities say at least one person died, a man hit by a falling tree on a Panhandle home.
The supercharged storm crashed ashore Wednesday afternoon amid beach resorts and coastal communities, a Category 4 monster packing 155 mph winds. Downgraded to a tropical storm over south Georgia, it was weakening by the hour. But it's still menacing the Southeast with heavy rains, winds and a threat of spinoff tornadoes.