Drone footage shows seaside town demolished by Hurricane Michael

The latest storm track for Michael

Entire blocks of homes near the beach were obliterated, reduced to nothing but concrete slabs in the sand. "All of my furniture was floating", she said. "It was very bad, and now there's just nothing left".

Michael, the third-most powerful hurricane ever to hit the United States 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.

Brad Rippey, a meteorologist for the US Agriculture Department, said Michael severely damaged cotton, timber, pecans and peanuts, causing estimated liabilities as high as $1.9bn and affecting up to 1.5 million hectares. As of 5 a.m. ET Friday, the storm is moving northeast across the Atlantic Ocean and was about 185 miles east-northeast of Norfolk, Virginia.

The NHC warned that communities in north-west Florida and North Carolina faced the threat of life-threatening flooding as rising water moved inland from the coast. High winds toppled trees and power lines, leaving hundreds of thousands without power. Flash flooding also was reported in North Carolina's two largest cities, Charlotte and Raleigh. Similar scenes played out in parts of Virginia as the storm raced seaward.

Nearly 1.2 million homes and businesses were without power Thursday because of the storm.

Under a perfectly clear blue sky, Florida families emerged tentatively from darkened shelters and hotels to an unfamiliar and perilous landscape of shattered homes and shopping centres, beeping security alarms, wailing sirens and hovering helicopters.

Images captured by Associated Press journalists show the devastation left in Hurricane Michael's wake.

Kathy Coy stands among what is left of her home after Hurricane Michael hit Panama City, Florida. Homes were split open by fallen trees. Downed power lines and twisted street signs lay all around.

Mr Long said several hospitals in the Panhandle were hit by the hurricane and patients had to be evacuated.

And unless we change the rate of greenhouse gas emissions, we should expect hurricanes to intensify more rapidly in the coming decades, the scientific research group Climate Central said.

"This morning, Florida's Gulf Coast and Panhandle and the Big Bend are waking up to unimaginable destruction", Governor Rick Scott said.

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- Hurricane history: first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in Florida's Panhandle since record-keeping began in 1851. It doesn't include losses covered by the National Flood Insurance Program.

One of the hardest-hit spots in Florida is Mexico Beach, where Michael crashed ashore.

Florida officials say one man died when he was crushed in an incident involving a tree in Gadsden County. A driver in North Carolina was killed when a tree fell on his vehicle. But she added emergency crews trying to reach the home were hampered by downed trees and debris blocking roadways.

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

More than 370,000 people in Florida were ordered to evacuate but officials believe many ignored the warning.

Twenty miles (32 km) south of Mexico Beach, floodwaters were more than 7 feet (2.1 meters) deep near Apalachicola, a town of about 2,300 residents, hurricane center chief Ken Graham said.

They said it was still not clear how many people stayed put and would need to be rescued.

Jordon Tood, 31, a charter boat captain in Port St. Joe, said: "There were mandatory evacuation orders, but only idiots like us stuck around".

The US national guard has reached the town, dubbed "ground zero", and found 20 people who survived a direct hit from Michael. But the fate of many residents was unknown.

Mishelle McPherson and her ex-husband looked for the elderly mother of a friend on Thursday.

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