PANAMA CITY, Florida. (AP) — Search-and-rescue teams fanned out across the Florida Panhandle to reach trapped people in Michael’s wake Thursday after the third-most powerful hurricane on record to hit the continental U.S. carved a path of destruction across the Southeast.
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 South 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.
Over 900,000 homes and businesses in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas were without power.
But the full extent of the damage was not yet clear, with some of the hardest-hit areas difficult to reach.
An 80-mile stretch of Interstate 10, the main east-west route along the Panhandle, was closed because of debris.
A day after the Category 4 monster blew ashore along the Panhandle with 155 miles per hour winds, the Coast Guard said it rescued at least 27 people, mostly from homes damaged along the Florida coastline, and searched for more victims.
Among those brought to safety were nine people rescued by helicopter from a bathroom of their Panama City home after their roof collapsed, Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronald Hodges said.
Florida officials also said they were moving patients from damaged health care facilities.
As of 9 a.m., Michael was centred about 40 miles west of Columbia, South Carolina, with winds of 50 miles per hour.
It was moving at 21 miles per hour.
The storm was expected to move across North Carolina and Virginia and push into the Atlantic Ocean by late Thursday or early Friday.