Beachside town battered by Hurricane Michael

Beachside town battered by Hurricane Michael

River and street flooding, fallen trees and the threat of tornadoes began spreading into central North Carolina on Thursday, prompting the state's governor to urge people to avoid travel until Tropical Storm Michael clears the region tonight or tomorrow.

Some of the most devastating pictures came from the tiny city of Mexico Beach - southeast of Panama City.

"It's hard to convey in words the scale of the catastrophe in Panama City".

As of 5:30 a.m., PowerOutage.US reported almost 358,000 customers of Georgia utilities were without power, with that number expected to grow as the storm continued to move across the state. A few blocks inland, about half the homes were reduced to piles of wood and siding and those still standing had suffered heavy damage.

The hurricane damaged hospitals and nursing homes in the Panama City area, and officials worked to evacuate hundreds of patients.

In Panama City, buildings were crushed, tall pine trees were sent flying and a steeple was knocked off a church.

"There are so many downed power lines and trees that it's nearly impossible to get through the city", Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson said.

The hurricane, the fiercest to hit Florida in 80 years, pummeled communities across the Panhandle and turned streets into roof-high waterways.

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In Chattahoochee, Fla., a hospital with a section for the criminally insane was cut off by land and without phone service. "We thought the windows were going to break at any time", Beu said.

Steve Sweet, who lived in Gretna, Florida, was killed by a falling tree.

The fatalities included Sarah Radney, an 11-year-old girl in Seminole County, Georgia, and a man in Greensboro, Florida.

Michael had rapidly intensified as it churned north over the Gulf of Mexico in recent days, growing from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane in about 40 hours and catching many by surprise. It was moving at 21 miles per hour. In North Carolina's mountains, motorists had to be rescued from cars trapped by high water.

"It's like our lives are gone, everything we have is gone now", he said.

"Why people didn't evacuate is something we should be studying", said Craig Fugate, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a former Florida state emergency management chief.

Based on wind speed, it was the fourth-strongest, behind the Labor Day storm (184 mph), Camille and Andrew in 1992.

Michael, the third-most powerful hurricane ever to hit the U.S. mainland, weakened overnight to a tropical storm and pushed north-east, bringing drenching rains to Georgia and the Carolinas, which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence last month.

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