CNNs Brooke Baldwin struggled to find the words to describe the devastation left by Hurricane Michael as she flew in a helicopter above Mexico Beach, Fla., on Thursday morning.
Its gone. Its gone, Baldwin said before her cameraman panned to long rows of leveled homes below. Its — its obliterated.
The small beachfront community, located about 40 miles south of Panama City, Fla., was where the Category 4 storm made landfall on Wednesday afternoon with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph, just 2 mph below the threshold of Category 5. It was the strongest hurricane ever to hit the Florida Panhandle, and the third strongest ever to strike the U.S. mainland.
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Good god. This footage from @BrookeBCNN. Mexico Beach, Florida is “gone” after Michael. pic.twitter.com/Fj3l6SYeFZ
At least two people died in the storm, and federal officials fear the death toll could rise as search and rescue crews begin to assess the damage.
Roads to Mexico Beach were virtually impassable, so Baldwin, who spent the night in nearby Destin, Fla., chartered a chopper to get the view from above. Fires could be seen burning in the distance, homes shredded and boats strewn across the town of about 1,100 people.
Its just awful to look at, Baldwin told viewers before her feed cut out. It was bad in Panama City Beach, but Ive never seen anything like this … I have no words.
A Tampa Bay Times reporter and a photojournalist who managed to make it to Mexico Beach on the ground early Thursday described what they saw:
Homes completely destroyed. Refrigerators and toilets where the storm left them. Thousands of two-by-fours, chewed up and indecipherable. Refrigerators, toilets, staircases to nowhere and front doors 10 feet up with no way down. The neighborhoods along U.S. 98 looked like a childs playroom after a massive tantrum.
Michael was the third most intense continental U.S. landfall by pressure and fourth strongest by maximum sustained winds on record. Michael was also the most intense Florida Panhandle landfall on record, the first Category 4 hurricane to do so in records dating to the mid-19th century.
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More than 180,000 people along the Florida Panhandle were under mandatory evacuation orders. And while many heeded those orders, some did not.
At least four survivors were discovered by the Tampa Bay Times reporters, including a woman and a man who were looking for help with their mothers portable oxygen machine.
A weather reporting station deployed by Weatherflow and the University of Florida measured a surface pressure from 920-929 millibars, an extraordinarily low pressure to measure on U.S. soil, before it was toppled, according to Shea Gibson, WeatherFlow, Inc. meteorologist.
Slideshow: Aerial photos show the devastation left in the path of Hurricane Michael >>>
The extent of Hurricane Michael's widespread devastation in Florida became clearer Thursday as the storm continued to wreak havoc across the Southeast, knocking down trees and power poles, stranding motorists, and spawning tornadoes and flash flood emergencies. Six people have died.
Michael made landfall as a high-end Category 4 storm on the Florida Panhandle Wednesday smashing towns to rubble. On Thursday, the Carolinas and Georgia saw trees knocked down, hundreds of thousands without power, and roads closed by standing water. Evacuations were needed in Irmo, South Carolina, after multiple homes took on water. Tropical Storm Michael's downpours in Virginia also flooded homes and led to water rescues and at least four flash flood emergencies later in the day. One tornado was confirmed.
Video: Drone video of devastation left in Mexico Beach
Four people were killed in Florida's Gadsden County, according to Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Anglie Hightower. One of them was Steve Sweet, 44, who died when a tree slammed into his Gretna home. Details were not available on the other three deaths. In southern Georgia, an 11-year-old girl was killed when a carport hit her home in Seminole County. The county coroner later identified her as Sarah Radney. A North Carolina man was killed Thursday after a tree fell on his car in Iredell County, north of Charlotte, the Associated Press reported.
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In Florida, from Panama City through Mexico Beach — where the storm made landfall — and into Apalachicola, houses were swamped or blown apart, roofs were ripped off, boats sank and trees toppled in the high winds. Aerial images at Mexico Beach Thursday morning showed extreme damage, with homes swept completely off their foundations and destroyed and few properties left standing along the coast.
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"Mexico Beach took the brunt," FEMA Administrator Brock Long said. "Thats probably ground zero."
As of 7:30 p.m. EDT Thursday, the total number of customers without power in Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia reached nearly 1.3 million, according to PowerOutage.us.
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Psychiatric hospital cut off: In the town of Chattahoochee, the Florida State Hospital, which is the state's largest and oldest psychiatric hospital, was inaccessible in the wake of Michael, according to the Miami Herald. The facility's 975 residents and 325 staffers had ample supplies, especially after food and water drops via helicopter, but the hospital lost all communication with the outside world, the report added.
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Two Panama City hospitals evacuate: Bay Medical Sacred Heart began evacuating patients about 3 a.m. Thursday after the hospital was damaged by the hurricane on Wednesday. Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center also was damaged and began moving patients on Thursday. Both hospitals said their emergency rooms would remain open.
Search and rescue missions underway: Long told reporters Thursday morning that the goal is to send crews into the hardest-hit areas to perform search and rescue missions. "The power's not going to be on for a while," he said.
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Stretch of Interstate 10 reopens: An 80-mile stretch of I-10 reopened after being closed Thursday morning so the Florida Highway Patrol could clear debris from the roadway. The closure impacted a stretch of the freeway from west of Tallahassee to Lake Seminole, the report added.
Major damage reported at Tyndall Air Force Base: The base, which sits across the bay from Panama City, posted on its Facebook page Thursday that the base had widespread catastrophic damage. The post also said there was roof damage to nearly every house on the base. No injuries were reported. A wind gust of 129 mph was measured at the base. Base personnel had been ordered to evacuate on Monday. The Facebook post said evacuees should plan on being away for an extended time.
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Devastation in Mexico Beach: Images from Mexico Beach showed widespread devastation with homes reduced to kindling and roofs lying in the middle of U.S. 98. Storm surge lapped at roof eaves. Patricia Mulligan was in a condo on Mexico Beach when Michael slammed into the town. You cant drive a car anywhere, you cant do anything because its littered with houses, pieces of houses, Mulligan told the New York Times. She said her brother's condo was destroyed as were other units nearby. Theyre not there. Its gone, she said.
Dozens Didn't Flee: State officials said as many as 285 Mexico Beach residents chose not to obey evacuation orders ahead of the storm. The National Guard was able to rescue about 20 people overnight, but it was unknown how many residents were missing, or if there were any deaths.
Authorities said at least two people have died, 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.
Storm tracker shocked by damage: "It's hard to convey in words the scale of the catastrophe in Panama City. The whole city looks like a nuke was dropped on it. I'm literally shocked at the scale of the destruction," tweeted chaser Josh Morgerman.
After Michael left the Panhandle late Wednesday, Kaylee OBrien 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.
Panama City residents feel wrath of Michael: Vance Beu, 29, was staying with his mother at her Panama City apartment when a pine tree slashed through the roof. Beu said the roar of the storm sounded like a jet engine as the winds accelerated. "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.
Reports of looting: Storm chasers posted video of people grabbing items from inside a heavily damaged Family Dollar store in Panama City on Thursday. Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said there was widespread looting of homes and businesses on Panama City Beach, too. He asked for 50 members of the National Guard for protection.
News outlets work through power loss: In Panama City Beach, WJHG-TV employees were told they could evacuate the station if they felt unsafe, but a few remained inside the building, according to reporter Danielle Ellis. The station lost power a few hours later. The Panama City News Herald lost power and stayed in operation using a backup generator, but did not have internet access at the office.
Aerial photos show the devastation left in the path of Hurricane Michael
Port St. Joe Mayor rides out the storm: Mayor Bo Patterson remained in his home seven blocks from the beach during the storm. "It feels like you don't know when the next tree is going to fall on top of you because it's blowing so ferociously," he told Reuters by telephone. "It's very, very scary. We have trees being uprooted, heavy, heavy rain."
Apalachicola suffers heavy damage: Sally Crown, who rode out the storm in her house, ventured out after the storm had passed. "It's absolutely horrendous. Catastrophic," she said. "There's flooding. Boats on the highway. A house on the highway. Houses that have been there forever are just shattered."
Trees downed across capital city: In Tallahassee, the power loss from Michael surpassed the loss from Hermine over two years ago, according to Mayor Andrew Gillum. He said about 110,000 homes and businesses were without power in the city Thursday morning and that one of the city's sewer systems failed. He urged patience and optimism from residents as the city works through its recovery. "I'm counting our many, many blessings. This storm for us certainly was not as bad for us as it could have been."
Federal disaster approved: President Donald Trump approved a major disaster declaration for the state in the wake of the storm, making federal aid available for state and local response efforts.
Thousands lose power: After its assault on Florida, Michael's wind and rain pelted southern and central Georgia, knocking out power and downing trees in the southwestern corner of the state. Early Thursday morning, about 350,000 homes and business were without power.
Trees downed: Of the hundreds of trees that were knocked down, one fell on a vehicle in northwest Atlanta, trapping a 31-year-old woman inside. She was taken to a hospital with internal injuries.
Numerous tornadoes reported: The National Weather Service said it had confirmed three tornadoes were spawned by Michael. An EF-0 tornado touched down a couple of miles southwest of Atlanta and snapped several large trees. A high-end EF-1 tornado touched down in Crawford County. Numerous trees were knocked down or uprooted. Several homes were damaged by falling trees, NWS said. Damage was also found in Peach County that was thought to be caused by a brief tornado, but NWS said it wants to re-examine radar data to confirm it.
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Agriculture decimated: With the harvest underway, many farms in South Georgia had their crops ravaged by the storm. "Our worst dreams are being realized," Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black told reporters Thursday morning. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that at least 53 poultry houses had been wiped out in Coffee, Houston, Mitchell, Wilcox and Decatur counties.
Injuries reported in Dothan: At least three people were injured in Dothan when a tree fell on a home Wednesday afternoon, WSFA.com reported. One of the victims was in critical condition, the report added.
Widespread power outages: More than 60,000 homes and businesses in southern Alabama were without power early Thursday.
Another storm brings flooding: Just weeks after being slammed by Hurricane Florence, the Carolinas are yet again seeing impacts from a tropical system. On Thursday morning, flooding was reported in parts of western North Carolina after hours of heavy rain overwhelmed rivers and streams. Several roads in Boone, North Carolina, were impacted the floodwaters Thursday morning, the city's police department tweeted. Gov. Roy Cooper said dozens of people were rescued from flash floods and rising rivers, the News & Observer reported.
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Students sent home early: South of Asheville, schools in Henderson and Polk counties were closed Thursday because of the storm. Watauga County also sent students home shortly after they arrived Thursday morning. Other school districts in North and South Carolina also closed for the day.
Don't drive around barricades: Dozens of roads and bridges damaged by Florence are still being repaired, and transportation officials urged travelers to refrain from driving around barricades, according to the State.
Homes flooded: Water rose knee-high and waist-high in communities near Columbia, South Carolina. At least 20 people were evacuated from their homes in Irmo, the State reported, and more than 40 homes had water in them, Ben Smith, assistant chief of the Irmo Fire District, said.
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State Fair delayed: In Raleigh, organizers for the North Carolina State Fair told WRAL.com that the opening was delayed from Thursday to Friday because of the storm's impacts.
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Flooded roads and water rescues: Numerous roads were closed and water rescues need as rain from Michael flooded southwest Virginia on Thursday afternoon, the National Weather Service reported, including Roanoke, Danville and southern Pittsylvania County, and Henry County. Hundreds of trees were down in Henry County, too. Reports said several had fallen on homes with people trapped inside.
Tornado warnings: More than a half dozen tornado warnings were issued Thursday evening for parts of southwestern and central Virginia. The Richmond Times-Dispatch said the National Weather Service reported that a tree fell through a house in Williamsburg as a result of a possible tornado. Earlier, the NWS said radar had confirmed a tornado near Scott's Fork in southern Amelia County.
Water enters homes: The NWS said the emergency manager for Prince Edward County reported flooding was entering homes, businesses, and government buildings across the county.
State of emergency: Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency Thursday as the Commonwealth began to experience serious impacts from the storm.