Authorities said at least seven people have died, including a man killed by a tree falling on a Panhandle home and according to WMAZ-TV, an 11-year-old girl was also killed by a tree falling on a home in southwest Georgia.
Search and rescue crews were expected to escalate efforts to reach hardest-hit areas and check for anyone trapped or injured in the storm debris.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said early Thursday that the eye of Michael was about 90 miles (144 kilometers) northeast of Macon, Georgia and about 45 miles (72 kilometers) west of Augusta. The storm’s maximum sustained winds have decreased to 50 mph (80 kph) and it was moving to the northeast at 21 mph (33 kph). The core of Michael will move across eastern Georgia into Central South Carolina on Thursday morning.
After daylight Thursday residents of north Florida would just be beginning to take stock of the enormity of the disaster.
Damage in Panama City near where Michael came ashore Wednesday afternoon was so extensive that broken and uprooted trees and downed power lines lay nearly everywhere. Roofs were peeled away, sent airborne, and homes were split open by fallen trees. Twisted street signs lay on the ground. Palm trees whipped wildly in the winds. More than 380,000 homes and businesses were without power at the height of the storm.
Vance Beu, 29, was staying with his mother at her home, Spring Gate Apartments, a complex of single-story wood frame buildings where they piled up mattresses around themselves for protection. A pine tree punched a hole in their roof and his ears even popped when the barometric pressure went lower. The roar of the winds, he said, sounded like a jet engine.
“It was terrifying, honestly. There was a lot of noise. We thought the windows were going to break at any time,” Beu said.
Sally Crown rode out Michael on the Florida Panhandle thinking at first that the worst damage was the many trees downed in her yard. But after the storm passed, she emerged to check on the cafe she manages and discovered a scene of breathtaking destruction.
“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.”
A Panhandle man was killed by a tree that toppled on a home, Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Anglie Hightower said. But she added emergency crews trying to reach the home were hampered by downed trees and debris blocking roadways. The debris was a problem in many coastal communities and still hundreds of thousands of people were also left without power.
Gov. Rick Scott announced afterward that thousands of law enforcement officers, utility crews and search and rescue teams would now go into recovery mode. He said “aggressive” search and rescue efforts would get underway.