Hurricane Michael latest: Watch weather phenomenon turn Florida sky PURPLE

A woman makes her way to an evacuation shelter in Tallahassee Florida. Hurricane Michael has forced thousands of residents to flee their homes

The big tourist attraction of Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City Beach was among the casualties, with extensive wind damage to some of its buildings, but all its animals were reported to be safe thanks to a skeleton staff who stayed behind to look after the six-acre facility.

On Thursday morning, people were starting to get out and assess the damage from Michael, which is being blamed for at least two deaths as it moves over the Southeast. A lot of trees are down and many buildings are badly damaged.

As we drove through mile after mile of swamp and pines, power and clearance crews worked in the heat.

"We were pleased that carriers had pre-positioned equipment and were in the process deploying cells on wheels (COWs) and cells on light trucks (COLTs) in order to get wireless service up and running in many locations", Pai said in a statement. The area is known for its small beach towns, wildlife reserves and the state capital, Tallahassee.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said: "The center of Michael will move through eastern Georgia into central SC this morning".

The NHC expects weakening today while the centre of the storm is over land.

As of Thursday morning, more than 500,000 customers still don't have their electricity restored across Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

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"The wind that came through here was surreal".

An estimated 6,000 people evacuated to emergency shelters, mostly in Florida, and that number was expected to swell to 20,000 across five states by week's end, said Brad Kieserman of the American Red Cross.

Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center in hard-hit Panama City, 32 km northwest of Mexico Beach, was treating some of the injured.

Down the road, one property featured a garage complete with motorbike, untouched, next to a home that had been splintered to pieces by three huge trees.

With a low barometric pressure recorded at 919 millibars, the measure of a hurricane's force, it ranked as the third strongest storm on record to make landfall in the continental United States. US President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for all of Florida, freeing federal assistance to supplement state and local disaster responses. Even before landfall, the hurricane disrupted energy operations in the Gulf, cutting crude oil production by more than 40 per cent and natural gas output by almost one-third as offshore platforms were evacuated before the storm hit.

A day after the Category 4 monster blew ashore along the Panhandle with 155 miles per hour winds, the Coast Guard said it rescued at least 27 people, mostly from homes damaged along the Florida coastline, and searched for more victims.

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