'Catching some hell': Hurricane Michael slams into Florida

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — Powerful Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle with terrifying winds of 155 mph Wednesday, splintering homes and submerging neighborhoods before continuing its destructive march inland across the Southeast. It was the most powerful hurricane to hit the continental U.S. in nearly 50 years and at least one death was reported during its passage.

Supercharged by abnormally warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the Category 4 storm crashed ashore in the early afternoon near Mexico Beach, a tourist town about midway along the Panhandle, a 200-mile (320-kilometer) stretch of white-sand beach resorts, fishing towns and military bases. After it ravaged the Panhandle, Michael entered south Georgia as a Category 3 hurricane — the most powerful in recorded history for that part of the neighboring state.

In north Florida, Michael battered the shoreline with sideways rain, powerful gusts and crashing waves, swamping streets and docks, flattening trees, stripped away leaves, shredding awnings and peeling away shingles. It also set off transformer explosions and knocked out power to more than 388,000 homes and businesses.

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Hurricane Michael hits Florida Panhandle
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Hurricane Michael hits Florida Panhandle
A storm chaser climbs into his vehicle during the eye of Hurricane Michael to retrieve equipment after a hotel canopy collapsed in Panama City Beach, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Brian Bon inspects damages in the Panama City, Fla., downtown area after Hurricane Michael made landfall along Florida's Panhandle on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
View of damages to a McDonald's in Panama City, Fla., downtown area after Hurricane Michael made landfall along Florida's Panhandle on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
PANAMA CITY, FL - OCTOBER 10: Scott Brazer and his dog Franklin take shelter in a parking garage as Hurricane Michael passes through the area on October 10, 2018 in Panama City, Florida. The hurricane made landfall on the Florida Panhandle as a category 4 storm. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PANAMA CITY, FL - OCTOBER 10: Debris is blown down a street by Hurricane Michael on October 10, 2018 in Panama City, Florida. The hurricane made landfall on the Florida Panhandle as a category 4 storm. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Karen Haskett walks past a fence damaged by Hurricane Michael in Panama City Beach, Florida, U.S. October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
A hotel canopy collapses onto vehicles during Hurricane Michael in Panama City Beach, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
PANAMA CITY, FL - OCTOBER 10: Derik Kline takes shelter in a parking garage as Hurricane Michael passes through the area on October 10, 2018 in Panama City, Florida. The hurricane made landfall on the Florida Panhandle as a category 4 storm. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PANAMA CITY, FL - OCTOBER 10: Frank Gaetano takes shelter in a parking garage as Hurricane Michael passes through the area on October 10, 2018 in Panama City, Florida. The hurricane made landfall on the Florida Panhandle as a category 4 storm. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
View of wild waves hitting the coast early morning in Panama City Beach Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018 before the arrival of Hurricane Michael. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
PANAMA CITY, FL - OCTOBER 10: Chuck Cummins is blown around by the winds as he takes shelter in a parking garage as Hurricane Michael passes through the area on October 10, 2018 in Panama City, Florida. The hurricane made landfall on the Florida Panhandle as a category 4 storm. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Waves crash on stilt houses along the shore due to Hurricane Michael at Alligator Point in Franklin County, Florida, U.S., October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Steve Nesius
Florida has been battered by Hurricane Michael as winds of 155mph tore ashore and brought severe flooding.
Florida has been battered by Hurricane Michael as winds of 155mph tore ashore and brought severe flooding.
Michael is strongest hurricane to hit US mainland since 1992 Storm made landfall at Mexico Beach, Florida Donald Trump warns it is a "monster" Storm crosses into Georgia Watch latest path of storm in Florida Florida has been battered by Hurricane Michael as winds of 155mph tore ashore and brought severe flooding. By wind speed the Category 4 hurricane is the strongest to hit the US mainland since 1992, and the fourth strongest ever recorded. At least one person was killed after the storm came ashore in the Florida panhandle, an area of beaches, fishing towns, and military bases in the north-west of the state, since records began in 1851. Addressing Floridians from the Oval Office, Donald Trump said: "I say God bless you all. That's my message. This started off very innocently a week ago, a small storm. They said it grew into a monster." It later crossed into southwestern Georgia as a dangerous Category 3 storm, the strongest to hit that part of the state in recorded history. Michael was expected to bring a foot of rain and a storm surge of up to 14ft. More than 375,000 people along the coast had been warned to evacuate, but many stayed behind. Hurricane Michael formed off the coast of Cuba carrying major Category 4 landfall in the Florida Panhandle Credit: AP The storm made landfall near Panama City Florida, on Wednesday afternoon, ripping off roofs and bending metal railings. One Florida Panhandle man was killed by a falling tree after it crashed through the roof of his home.  “My God, it’s scary. I didn’t expect all this,” said Bill Manning, 63, a grocery clerk who fled his camper van in Panama City for safer quarters in a hotel, only to see the electricity there go out. "Panama City, I don’t know if there will be much left." Only a couple of hours after Michael came ashore, floodwaters were more than 7-1/2 feet deep near Apalachicola on Florida's Panhandle, National Hurricane Centre Director Ken Graham said. Boats sit in a storage warehouse damaged from Hurricane Michael at Treasure Island Marina in Panama City Beach Credit: Bloomberg The president declared a state of emergency for the entire state of Florida, freeing up government money for the disaster response. A total of 2,500 National Guard troops were deployed to the area, and 4,000 more were on standby, along with 17,000 workers who will help to restore power. Rick Scott, the Florida governor, said on Twitter: "This is a horrible, horrible storm. I am scared to death for people that didn't evacuate." Marco Rubio, the Florida senator, said: "There is going to be a killer, a killer storm surge in this event. Nine, 10, 11 feet. No one is going to survive that. The Gulf of Mexico is kind of like a basin of water, all being pushed up on people, and if you’re still there when that comes in, you’re going to die." Donald Trump addressing Floridians from the Oval Office: "God bless you all." Credit: Reuters Meteorologists said the unexpected way Michael had developed, its wind speeds increasing by 50 per cent in one 24-hour period, had been "jaw-dropping". In Panama City, Diane Farris, 57, was among over 1,000 people crammed into a shelter designed for half as many. She said: "I'm worried about my daughter and grandbaby. I don't know where they are." 12:36AM Man killed by falling tree Authorities say a Florida Panhandle man was killed by a falling tree as Hurricane Michael tore through the state. Anglie Hightower, Gadsden County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman, says they received a call around 6 pm, saying a tree had crashed through the roof of the man's Greensboro home and trapped him. Emergency crews were heading to the home, but downed power lines and blocked roads were making the trip difficult. Storm damage is seen after Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida Credit: AFP Florida Gov. Rick Scott says search and rescue teams are heading into the state's hardest-hit areas to help survivors. At a news conference, Mr Scott urged people to stay off roads and leave them open to first responders as they begin the work of search and rescue - and recovery. He says flash flooding and tornadoes are still possible, and says officials have heard reports of at least two tornadoes in Florida. Storm damage is seen after Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida Credit: AFP Mr Scott said at least 192,000 homes and businesses are without power in Florida, but vowed "a massive wave of response" with thousands of utility personnel fanning out to restore power, along with medical teams, law enforcement personnel and the search and rescue squads. In Georgia, meanwhile, more than 32,000 homes and businesses in Georgia were without power as parts of the state were beginning to feel the impact from the hurricane. 11:41PM Michael moves on to Georgia The National Hurricane Centre says Michael's eye has crossed from the Florida Panhandle into southwestern Georgia as a dangerous Category 3 storm - the strongest to hit that part of the state in recorded history. Maximum sustained winds of 115 mph were recorded in Seminole County, Georgia, on Wednesday evening.  According to an advisory, the storm was located 20 miles  west-northwest of Bainbridge, Georgia, and 50 miles southwest of Albany, Georgia. It was moving north-northeast at 13 mph. Heavy rainfall from #Michael could produce life-threatening flash flooding from the Florida Panhandle & Big Bend regions into portions of southeast Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas, and southeast Virginia. See the latest @NWSWPC forecasts for more details: https://t.co/3qxGBA9w6tpic.twitter.com/lsGXGrMq73— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) October 10, 2018 Dangerous storm surge continues along the coast of the Florida Panhandle. 11:21PM Air force base suffers direct hit Tyndall Air Force Base says it has suffered "extensive damage" after taking a direct hit.  Tyndall Air Force Base, located in Panama City on the coast of the Florida Panhandle, was fully evacuated Tuesday night, just before the Michael made landfall, said Air Force General Terrence O'Shaughnessy, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command. "Before the storm ever arrived we'd actually transferred command and control capability to another facility," O'Shaughnessy told Pentagon reporters. Tyndall is a major facility for protecting the air space over the continental United States, US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The four-star general added that some Florida residents may have been surprised by the rapid growth of the storm. "It really started as a tropical storm, and then it went to Category 1, then it was Category 2 and before you know it, it was Category 4," O'Shaughnessy said. "Where that becomes a factor is with the evacuation of some of the local populations," he said. "We haven't seen as robust of an evacuation response from the civilian population that we have seen in other storms." 10:49PM Donald Trump does not cancel campaign rally in Pennsylvania The president said he couldn't let down thousands of people queuing to see him. Couldn’t let these great people down. They have been lined up since last night - see you soon Pennsylvania! pic.twitter.com/jSrsmncw85— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 10, 2018   10:13PM Destruction in Panama City Storm chaser Jeff Gammons has posted pictures of damage in Panama City There’s a lot of damage in Panama City, FL. #HurricaneMichaelpic.twitter.com/c3Ik4R3ZRs— Jeff Gammons (@StormVisuals) October 10, 2018   10:11PM Bank destroyed in Panama City The First Federal Bank of Florida in #PanamaCity has been completely destroyed this afternoon by #HurricaneMichael. pic.twitter.com/F9UnVTfw1n— Justin Peden (@JustAPeden) October 10, 2018   9:12PM Michael becomes strongest US hurricane since 1992 Based on wind speed Michael was the strongest hurricane to hit the US mainland since 1992. It was the the fourth strongest ever recorded to have hit the mainland. Patricia Mulligan, a Mexico Beach resident, told CNN the hurricane was "huge". She said: "The building we're in is huge and it was shaking. A concrete building, very, very scary." 8:59PM Mexico Beach takes the brunt Here is the scene in Mexico Beach, a coastal town with a population of just over 1,000. More damage from #HurricaneMichael in Mexico Beach, Florida (source: talarico.tessa) Videos @ https://t.co/g8ObaqqcEZ… pic.twitter.com/D3KmGUtgqQ— nwsgrl (@nwsgrl) October 10, 2018   8:57PM More video of damage in Mexico Beach Pure devastation in Mexico Beach, Florida. That's where the eye of near-category 5 Hurricane #Michael passed. Courtesy of talarico.tessa on Instagram.#FLwxpic.twitter.com/H1H4mVXJSL— Tyler Sebree (@TylerABC57) October 10, 2018   8:56PM Homes destroyed or submerged to roof level in Mexico Beach Video is emerging of houses destroyed, or submerged up to their roofs in Mexico Beach, Florida, which took a direct hit. Linda Albrecht, a Mexico Beach councilwoman, said: "It's like a nightmare, you want someone to shake you and wake you up. It came on so quickly." VIDEO: Mexico Beach, Florida has been devastated by #HurricaneMichael , with many homes destroyed and storm surge up to roof level. #Michael#flwx#ExtremeWeather Credit: talarico.tessa pic.twitter.com/3lSjWpdQ0Y— Airport Webcams (@AirportWebcams) October 10, 2018   8:50PM President Trump has delivered another statement on the hurricane President Trump delivers a statement on Hurricane Michael: pic.twitter.com/Jh9SEqrZp3— The White House (@WhiteHouse) October 10, 2018   7:57PM Michael sends debris flying In Panama City debris has been sent flying. Part of a hotel collapses on a car in Panama City Credit: AP A hotel worker holds a door shut as it is hit by debris in Panama City Credit: AP   7:40PM Hurricane Michael seen from space Cameras outside the International Space Station captured this footage of Hurricane Michael just before landfall.   7:14PM Waffle House closes for Hurricane Michael A sign of the severity of the storm came as Waffle House announced it was closing 18 outlets in the area. The 24-hour chain is renowned for remaining open during terrible weather conditions, leading  experts to refer to the "Waffle House test" when assessing the seriousness of a storm. A Waffle House spokesman told Fox News: "We have closed these restaurants yesterday so our employees can be safe as Hurricane Michael comes on shore. “We have staged people and resources outside of the strike zone to come into the area after the storm passes. We will assess the damage and begin to reopen the restaurants as soon as it is safe to do so.” 6:56PM Michael makes landfall with 155mph winds Michael made landfall, the National Hurricane Center said, describing it as a "potentially catastrophic" Category 4 storm packing 155mph winds. "Hurricane Michael has made landfall just northwest of Mexico Beach, Florida," the hurricane centre said in its latest update. 6:25PM Donald Trump tells Floridians: 'God bless you all' As the eye of the storm approached the coast Donald Trump spoke from the Oval Office. He said: "I say God bless you all. That's my message because that's what it is. The storm is there. It's sort of too late to do that now from the standpoint of moving. "You have people that are stuck, they're just stuck there."
Hurricane Michael Lands In Florida With 155 MPH Winds
Joseph Howat clears a damaged fence by Hurricane Michael at his business in Panama City Beach, Florida, U.S. October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Karen Haskett picks up debris in her business' yard damaged by Hurricane Michael in Panama City Beach, Florida, U.S. October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
Waves crash on stilt houses along the shore due to Hurricane Michael at Alligator Point in Franklin County, Florida, U.S., October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Steve Nesius
A downed tree and power lines block a road during Hurricane Michael in Panama City Beach, Florida, U.S. October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
View of damages to the Presbyterian school in Panama City, Fla., downtown area after Hurricane Michael made landfall along Florida's Panhandle on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
Storm damage is seen after Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida on October 10, 2018. - Michael slammed into the Florida coast on October 10 as the most powerful storm to hit the southern US state in more than a century as officials warned it could wreak 'unimaginable devastation.' Michael made landfall as a Category 4 storm near Mexico Beach, a town about 20 miles (32kms) southeast of Panama City, around 1:00 pm Eastern time (1700 GMT), the National Hurricane Center said. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
An American flag is seen after Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida on October 10, 2018. - Michael slammed into the Florida coast on October 10 as the most powerful storm to hit the southern US state in more than a century as officials warned it could wreak 'unimaginable devastation.' Michael made landfall as a Category 4 storm near Mexico Beach, a town about 20 miles (32kms) southeast of Panama City, around 1:00 pm Eastern time (1700 GMT), the National Hurricane Center said. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Storm damage is seen after Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida on October 10, 2018. - Michael slammed into the Florida coast on October 10 as the most powerful storm to hit the southern US state in more than a century as officials warned it could wreak 'unimaginable devastation.' Michael made landfall as a Category 4 storm near Mexico Beach, a town about 20 miles (32kms) southeast of Panama City, around 1:00 pm Eastern time (1700 GMT), the National Hurricane Center said. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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A Panhandle man was killed by a tree toppling on a home, Gadsden County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Anglie Hightower said. She said authorities got a call Wednesday evening that the man was trapped but rescue crews were hampered by downed trees and debris blocking roadways. Authorities haven't yet confirmed the man's name.

Damage in Panama City was extensive, with broken and uprooted trees and power lines down nearly everywhere. Roofs were peeled off and homes split open by fallen trees. Twisted street signs lay on the ground. Residents emerged in the early evening to assess damage when rains stopped, though skies were still overcast and windy.

Vance Beu, 29, was staying with his mother at her apartment, Spring Gate Apartments, a small complex of single-story wood frame apartment buildings. A pine tree punched a hole in their roof and he said the roar of the storm sounded like a jet engine as the winds accelerated. Their ears even popped as the barometric pressure dropped.

"It was terrifying, honestly. There was a lot of noise. We thought the windows were going to break at any time. We had the inside windows kind of barricaded in with mattresses," Beu said.

Kaylee O'Brien was crying as she sorted through the remains of the apartment she shared with three roommates at Whispering Pines apartments, where the smell of broken pine trees was thick in the air. Four pine trees had crashed through the roof of her apartment, nearly hitting two people. She was missing her 1-year-old Siamese cat, Molly.

"We haven't seen her since the tree hit the den. She's my baby," O'Brien said, her face wet with tears.

In Apalachicola, Sally Crown rode out the storm in her house. The worst damage — she thought — was in her yard. Multiple trees were down. But after the storm passed, she drove to check on the cafe she manages and saw the scope of the destruction.

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Preparations for Hurricane Michael
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Preparations for Hurricane Michael
Lifeguards patrol the beach in advance of Hurricane Michael in Pensacola, Florida, U.S. October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
This satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a view of Tropical Storm Michael, lower right, churning as it heads toward the Florida Panhandle, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018, at 6:52 p.m. Eastern Time. (NOAA via AP)
Culwinder Singh, top, and Sukhdeep Uppal board up the front of their store in advance of Hurricane Michael in Destin, Florida, U.S. October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
Rob Docko ties a knot while securing his boat at the St. Andrews Marina in Panama City, Fla., Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, to prepare for Hurricane Michael. (Patti Blake /News Herald via AP)
A red flag, warning of dangerous conditions, is seen on a pier in advance of Hurricane Michael in Pensacola, Florida, U.S. October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
Alexander Charnicharo fishes at the seafront in Havana as Hurricane Michael passes by western Cuba on October 8, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Capt. Steve Haeusler, left, and Wyatt Ferreira take down the sign for Haeusler's charter fishing boat "First Light" on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018. Boat captains in this fishing community were relocating their vessels to safer locations in advance of Hurricane Michael. (Devon Ravine/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP)
A woman, who refused to give her name, looks out over the water from her porch amid fears she will never see her home again as Hurricane Michael bears down on Alligator Point, Florida, U.S., October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 08: Drivers line up for gasoline as Hurricane Michael bears down on the northern Gulf coast of Florida on October 8, 2018 in Tallahassee, Florida. Michael was forecast to become a Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 120 mph when it makes landfall in the Florida panhandle later this week. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)
Commercial boats leave the Destin Harbor in Destin, Fla., on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018. Residents of this Florida panhandle city were busy Monday readying themselves for Hurricane Michael, which is predicted to make landfall somewhere around Panama City, Fla. (Devon Ravine/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP)
TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 08: Drivers line up for gasoline as Hurricane Michael bears down on the northern Gulf coast of Florida on October 8, 2018 in Tallahassee, Florida. Michael was forecast to become a Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 120 mph when it makes landfall in the Florida panhandle later this week. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)
Bobby Smith boards up the windows at Jani's Ceramics in Panama City, Fla., on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Michael. (Patti Blake/News Herald via AP)
TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 08: People line up for gasoline as Hurricane Michael bears down on the northern Gulf coast of Florida on October 8, 2018 outside Tallahassee, Florida. Michael was forecast to become a Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 120 mph when it makes landfall in the Florida panhandle later this week. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)
Aaron Smith carries a couple hundred feet of anchor rope as prepares to move his charter fishing boat "Sea Fix" from the Destin Harbor in Destin, Fla., on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018. Boat captains in this fishing community were relocating their vessels to safer locations in advance of Hurricane Michael. (Devon Ravine/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP)
Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Andrew Gillum, left, helps Eboni Sipling fill up sandbags in Tallahassee, Fla., Monday, Oct. 8, 2018. Residents in Florida's Panhandle and Big Bend are getting ready for Hurricane Michael, which is expected to make landfall by midweek. (AP Photo/Gary Fineout)
Wyatt Ferreira gets ready to move the charter fishing boat "First Light" from its mooring in the harbor in Destin, Fla., Monday, Oct. 8, 2018. Boat captains in this fishing community were relocating their vessels to safer waters in advance of Hurricane Michael. (Devon Ravine/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP)
Bobby Smith boards up the windows at Jani's Ceramics in Panama City, Fla., on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Michael. (Patti Blake/News Herald via AP)
A worker removes equipment from a home as Hurricane Michael bears down on Alligator Point, Florida, U.S., October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Justin Davis, left, and Brock Mclean board up a business in advance of Hurricane Michael in Destin, Florida, U.S. October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
A red flag, warning of dangerous conditions, is seen in advance of Hurricane Michael in Pensacola, Florida, U.S. October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
Ray Callahan pumps gasoline in advance of Hurricane Michael in Gulf Breeze, Florida, U.S. October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
A woman jogs with a dog as waves splash at the seafront in Havana, after Hurricane Michael passed in western Cuba, October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
A woman who refused to give her name, wipes a tear as she sits and packs her final few belongings and fears she will never see her home again as Hurricane Michael bears down on Alligator Point, Florida, U.S., October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
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"It's absolutely horrendous. Catastrophic," Crown said. "There's flooding. Boats on the highway. A house on the highway. Houses that have been there forever are just shattered."

Gov. Rick Scott announced soon after the powerful eye had swept inland that "aggressive" search and rescue efforts were just beginning and urged people to stay off debris-littered roads.

"If you and your family made it through the storm safely, the worst thing you could do now is act foolishly," he said.

With the hurricane still pounding the state hours after it came ashore, and conditions too dangerous in places for search-and-rescue teams to go out, there were no further reports on deaths or injuries by nightfall.

Michael was a meteorological brute that sprang quickly from a weekend tropical depression, going from a Category 2 on Tuesday to a Category 4 by the time it came ashore. It was the most powerful hurricane on record to hit the Panhandle.

More than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast were urged to evacuate as Michael closed in. But the fast-moving, fast-strengthening storm didn't give people much time to prepare, and emergency authorities lamented that many ignored the warnings and seemed to think they could ride it out.

Diane Farris, 57, and her son walked to a high school-turned-shelter near their home in Panama City to find about 1,100 people crammed into a space meant for about half as many. Neither she nor her son had any way to communicate because their lone cellphone got wet and quit working.

"I'm worried about my daughter and grandbaby. I don't know where they are. You know, that's hard," she said, choking back tears.

Hurricane-force winds extended up to 45 miles (75 kilometers) from Michael's center at the height of the storm. Forecasters said rainfall could reach up to a foot (30 centimeters) in spots. And then there was the life-threatening storm surge to deal with.

A water-level station in Apalachicola, close to where Michael came ashore, reported a surge of nearly 8 feet (2.5 meters).

Based on its internal barometric pressure, Michael was the third most powerful hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland, 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 (184 mph, or 296 kph), Camille and Andrew in 1992.

It appeared to be so powerful that it remained a hurricane as it moved into south Georgia early Thursday. Forecasters said it would unleash damaging wind and rain all the way into the Carolinas, which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence's epic flooding.

At the White House, President Donald Trump said, "God bless everyone because it's going to be a rough one," he said. "A very dangerous one." His office said he would tour the devastated areas next week.

In Mexico Beach, population 1,000, the storm shattered homes, leaving floating piles of lumber. The lead-gray water was so high that roofs were about all that could be seen of many homes.

In Panama City, plywood and metal flew off the front of a Holiday Inn Express. Part of the awning fell and shattered the glass front door of the hotel, and the rest of the awning wound up on vehicles parked below it.

"Oh my God, what are we seeing?" said evacuee Rachel Franklin, her mouth hanging open.

The hotel swimming pool had whitecaps.

Meteorologists watched satellite imagery in complete awe as the storm intensified.

"We are in new territory," National Hurricane Center Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen wrote on Facebook. "The historical record, going back to 1851, finds no Category 4 hurricane ever hitting the Florida panhandle."

The storm is likely to fire up the debate over global warming.

Scientists say global warming is responsible for more intense and more frequent extreme weather, such as storms, droughts, floods and fires. But without extensive study, they cannot directly link a single weather event to the changing climate.

With Election Day less than a month away, the crisis was seen as a test of leadership for Scott, a Republican running for the Senate, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum , the Democratic nominee for governor. Just as Northern politicians are judged on how they handle snowstorms, their Southern counterparts are watched closely for how they deal with hurricanes.

Only a skeleton staff remained at Tyndall Air Force Base, situated on a peninsula just south of Panama City. Hundreds of military families were moved out, and the base's aircraft, which include F-22 Raptors, were flown to safety hundreds of miles away.

In St. Marks, John Hargan and his family gathered up their pets and moved to a raised building constructed to withstand a Category 5 after water from the St. Marks River began surrounding their home.

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Associated Press writers Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Fla.; Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Brendan Farrington in St. Marks, Fla.; Russ Bynum in Keaton Beach, Fla.; Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, North Carolina; and Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Md., contributed to this story.

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For the latest on Hurricane Michael, visit https://www.apnews.com/tag/Hurricanes

 

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