A mannequin in a window display in Panama City, Florida, after Hurricane Michael (Brendan Smialowski)
Panama City (United States) (AFP) – Desolate concrete slabs where houses once stood. Boats tossed in yards. Uprooted trees. Piles of rubble and debris everywhere.
Hurricane Michael left a trail of devastation along a huge swathe of the Florida Panhandle.
The extent of the damage was becoming clear on Thursday as AFP reporters and photographers toured affected areas and US television networks flew helicopters along the coast.
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.
“There is unbelievable devastation,” Florida Governor Rick Scott said on CNN. “We know many people have been injured. I don’t know the numbers yet.”
Scott said search-and-rescue teams had worked throughout the night looking for survivors of the most powerful storm to hit the Panhandle in more than a century.
“We have a massive flow of search and rescue, Highway Patrol, National Guard, utility workers, pushing their way down to these impacted areas,” the governor said.
The Florida State Emergency Response Team meanwhile said 400,000 homes and businesses were without power.
The resort town of Mexico Beach, where the hurricane made landfall, suffered massive destruction from the 155 miles per hour (250 kph) winds.
Home after home was razed from its foundations in the town of around 1,000 people. Others were missing roofs or walls. Roads were impassable and canals were choked with debris.
A Mexico Beach resident who rode out the hurricane described the impact of the storm surge to CNN.
“When the water came in houses started floating,” said the man identified as Scott. “We had furniture in our house that wasn’t even our furniture. The surge had brought stuff in.
“There’s nothing left here anymore,” he said of the town. “Our lives are gone here. All the stores, all the restaurants, everything.
“It’s hard to grasp,” he said. “This was never in our imagination.”
– ‘Tremendous destruction’ –
Nearby Panama City Beach experienced similar damage along with other communities along the shore of the Gulf of Mexico.
A storage facility in Panama City Beach housing hundreds of boats was ripped apart by the strong winds with the roof shredding into strips of twisted metal.
At 11:00 am Eastern time (1500 GMT), Michael was dumping heavy rainfall on South and North Carolina, where cities and towns are still recovering from Hurricane Florence last month.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned of possible flash flooding Thursday in parts of Georgia, the Carolinas and southeastern Virginia because of heavy rains from Michael.
President Donald Trump promised to provide speedy assistance to help recovery efforts.
“It is going to go fast,” Trump said in an interview with “Fox and Friends.” “We’ll make it go fast.”
Speaking later to reporters, Trump said the hurricane was “incredibly powerful.”
“It’s tremendous destruction,” he added. “We’ve not seen destruction like that in a long time.”
At an election rally in Pennsylvania on Wednesday night, Trump offered his “thoughts and prayers” to those in the path of the storm and said he would visit Florida soon.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) chief Brock Long said Michael was the most intense hurricane to strike the Florida Panhandle since record keeping began in 1851.
Long said many Florida buildings were not built to withstand a storm above the strength of a Category 3 hurricane on the five-level Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
As it came ashore, Michael was just shy of a Category 5 — defined as a storm packing top sustained wind speeds of 157 mph or above.
Last year saw a string of catastrophic storms batter the western Atlantic — including Irma, Maria and Harvey, which caused a record-equaling $125 billion in damage when it flooded the Houston metropolitan area.
Scientists have long warned that global warming will make storms more destructive, and some say the evidence for this may already be visible.
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