A violent and historic Hurricane Michael is heading toward the Carolinas after tearing through Florida and Georgia, demolishing homes, submerging entire neighborhoods and killing at least two people, including an 11-year-old girl.
It is the third-most-powerful storm on record to hit the U.S., and the worst in nearly 50 years, since Hurricane Camille in 1969.
Michael, which is also the first Category 4 to ever make landfall on the Florida Panhandle, “the worst storm” that area has ever seen,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday.
The massive storm hit the Panhandle in northwest Florida early Wednesday afternoon, leaving a trail of devastation. It then roared north through southwest Georgia and was on Thursday setting its sights on North and South Carolina, states that are still staggering from historic flooding left by Hurricane Florence last month.
Michael weakened to a tropical storm and was moving northeast Thursday, with tropical storm warnings in effect from Georgia to North Carolina, including Savannah, Raleigh, Wilmington, and Charleston.
Six to 9 inches of rain could drench Virginia and North Carolina.
Michael is the first major hurricane to blow into the state since 1898.
One death has been confirmed in Georgia. An 11-year-old girl was killed when part of a metal carport crashed into her family’s trailer in Lake Seminole and struck her in the head, local officials said.
In Roberta, Georgia, a reported tornado devastated the small town.
Over 180,000 in the state were without power Thursday.
Authorities on Thursday begged families to stay inside while they worked to clear an overwhelming number of downed trees.
Michael, which Gov. Scott called “monstrous,” made landfall with wind speeds that were nearly the greatest possible for a Category 4 — 155 mph. When a hurricane reaches 157 mph, it is a Category 5, the highest possible.
Michael left Mexico Beach destroyed, with the storm surge ripping multiple houses from their foundations, sending them bobbing along the main road that runs through the beloved beach town.
With cell service knocked out, leaving people isolated and staring at empty spots where dozens of homes are no longer standing.
The Florida Panhandle is the wide strip in the northwestern corner of the state bordered by the Gulf of Mexico to the south and Alabama and Georgia to the north. Popular with tourists for its beaches, the area also has many year-round residents. Its largest city is Pensacola, with a population approaching half a million.
“Panama City is a vibrant seaside city. Popular vacation spot for both families & college students. Early reports from locals are catastrophic devastation,” Sen. Rubio tweeted.
He described Mexico Beach as an “old Florida town” that “feels like a trip back in time to a place unspoiled by development.
“It will take a long time to recover from this. We will do everything we can to make sure the federal government does its part,” the senator tweeted. “But I will confess that my biggest fear that this part of Florida, with its unique & genuine characteristics, will never be the same.”
Thousands fled the Florida coastline before Michael hit. But by Wednesday morning, it was too late to evacuate. Those who remained were urged to shelter in place.
Colleen Swab, her mother, and her young daughter took shelter in a closet in Panama City Beach, Florida.
“We were terrified but there was nowhere for us to go; we couldn’t get on the roads. It was too late,” Swab said. “I thought the roof was going to come off. I don’t suggest trying to ride out a storm.”
At least one person has died in Florida from the storm, according to local officials.
As cleanup and rescues were underway Thursday, Gov. Scott urged residents who evacuated and hunkered down at home to stay off the roads.
“The worst thing you can do now acts foolishly” by putting yourself in danger or keeping law enforcement from saving lives, he said at a news conference.
Among those helping are about 450 Florida Highway Patrol officers, many of whom drove through the night to the Panhandle to help with rescues.
“During disasters, Floridians take care of each other,” Scott said. “We will recover.”
Michael has left about 700,000 households and businesses without power across Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina.
More than 30,000 workers from at least 24 states have been mobilized to restore power, officials said.
An estimated 325,000 residents in the path of the storm were told to evacuate by local authorities, but only 6,000 people came to the roughly 80 shelters across Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas, officials said.
Federal officials were worried that the fast-moving nature of the storm didn’t give residents enough time to get out. Michael strengthened to a Category 4 in just a few hours.
Red Cross officials said they expect shelter population to swell to 20,000 by Thursday or Friday.
The storm “grew into a monster,” President Donald Trump said Wednesday from the Oval Office.
Despite the storm, Trump headed to his planned Wednesday night rally in Pennsylvania, telling reporters, “We have thousands of people lined up. … It would have been very unfair.”
Trump said later from the rally, “Our thoughts and prayers on behalf of the nation to everyone out there in the path of Hurricane Michael. … All of Pennsylvania and America sends its unwavering love and support.”
Trump said he is working closely with governors of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama and Georgia to provide resources and support from the federal government.
Trump added, “I’ll be traveling to Florida very, very shortly, and I just want to wish them all the best. Godspeed.