Devastating aftermath from Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida

Aaron in his damaged apartment after Hurricane Michael

Aaron in his damaged apartment after Hurricane Michael

Michael made landfall Wednesday in the Florida Panhandle with maximum sustained winds of 249 kilometers per hour, putting it just below Category 5 status that tops the scale used to describe the strength and destructive potential of hurricanes.

Authorities said a falling tree killed a man outside Tallahassee, Florida, and an 11-year-old girl in Georgia was killed when the winds picked up a carport and dropped it on her home.

Rescuers searched for survivors in the rubble of ravaged beach communities on Thursday after Michael, one of the most powerful hurricanes in United States history, slammed into the Florida Panhandle, causing widespread flooding and killing at least seven people.

By 8 a.m. EDT on Thursday, it had been downgraded to a tropical storm with 50 miles per hour winds as it pushed through Georgia into the Carolinas, the National Hurricane Center said.

Much of downtown Port St. Joe, 12 miles (19 km) east of Mexico Beach, was flooded by Michael, which snapped boats in two and hurled a large ship onto the shore, residents said.

"The wind that came through here was surreal".

The kitties were found in a home with a collapsed ceiling in Panama City, Florida, and have become a symbol of resilience and hope for some in the wake of the ferocious storm. "It's unlivable. It's heartbreaking".

Harvey and Michael didn't strengthen quite so much, so fast, but they rapidly intensified in the crucial hours before making their final continental USA landfalls.

"Michael made landfall on Wednesday around 2 pm near Mexico Beach, Florida, dashing homes into pieces, swallowing marinas and leaving piles of rubble where shopping centres once stood", CNN said.

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Florida has some of the most stringent hurricane building codes in the country, but they apply only to new or retrofitted structures. Forecasters said rainfall could reach up to a foot (30 centimeters) in spots.

Nearby Panama City Beach experienced similar damage along with other communities along the shore of the Gulf of Mexico.

"My God, it's scary". "However, I don't think I'm in a position to say - one way or the other - whether global warming played an important role in Michael's rapid intensification", he cautioned.

In the case of Michael the damage will be mainly from wind rather than rain.

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

Some 500,000 Florida residents had been ordered or urged to seek higher ground before the storm in 20 counties spanning a 200-mile stretch of shoreline, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said.

Despite the widespread destruction, LaFountain said he believes most people will rebuild. However, just 6,700 people have been housed in 54 shelters. He imposed a curfew and asked for 50 members of the National Guard for protection. The storm hacked a trail of catastrophic destruction in Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia before finally heading back out over water.

Gov. Rick Scott announced soon after the powerful eye had swept inland that "aggressive" search and rescue efforts would get underway as conditions allowed.

Michael also disrupted energy operations in the US Gulf of Mexico as it approached land, cutting crude oil production by more than 40% and natural gas output by almost one-third as offshore platforms were evacuated.

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