He said people will "not be dragged out of their homes", but anyone who stays behind will be on their own once the storm hits.
"Michael will steadily weaken as it crosses the south-eastern United States through Thursday night, becoming a tropical storm by Thursday morning. It destroyed everything", Jason Gunderson, a member of a group of rescue workers that calls itself the Cajun Navy, told CNN early on Thursday from Callaway, a suburb of Panama City.
The Talmadge Bridge on USA 17 over the Savannah River between Savannah, Georgia and SC remains closed because of the threat of high winds on the suspension bridge. A Hurricane Warning is in effect for the Alabama/Florida border to Suwannee River Florida, and a Hurricane Watch is in effect from the Alabama/Florida border to the Mississippi/Alabama border.
In Panama City, 20 miles (32 km) northwest of Mexico Beach, buildings were crushed and boats were scattered around. And as rescue workers sift through the debris Thursday, many fear the death toll will rise.
"If you're responsible for a patient, you're responsible for the patient". A huge swath of Interstate 10, the main east-west route near the coast, is blocked off due to damage.
Federal Emergency Management Agency officials provided an update on Hurricane Michael on Tuesday.
Smith, in Gadsden County, said the situation was unsafe even for emergency personnel.
He said strong winds picked up a portable carport Wednesday and dropped it down on the roof. One of the carport's legs punctured the roof and hit her in the head.
Downed power lines lay almost everywhere.
"It looks like a tornado came through here", he said.
Michael is expected to dump 4 to 7 inches of rain from eastern Georgia to the southern mid-Atlantic and up to 9 inches of rain in parts of North Carolina and Virginia, the National Hurricane Center said.
State officials issued disaster declarations in Alabama and Georgia and the storm is also expected to bring heavy rainfall to North and SC. Tropical storm conditions are expected in the tropical storm warning area by tonight or early Wednesday, and are possible within the tropical storm watch area by that time.
Wakulla County issued a dire warning, saying it won't open any of its shelters - because they're safety-rated only for storms up to Category 2 strength, WFSU reports.
Forecasters say the Category 2 storm should make landfall in the Florida panhandle tomorrow.
As of 2 p.m. EDT, Michael had winds of 110 miles per hour (175 kph), just below a Category 3 hurricane, and was getting stronger, drawing energy from Gulf waters in the mid-80s.
A reporter and photojournalist from the Tampa Bay Times ventured there in the dark early Thursday, finding the town of about 1,000 nearly impassable. A series of transformer explosions and other mishaps knocked out power to 388,000 homes and businesses, the governor's office reported.
And amid the wreckage, the crew spotted survivors - people who rode out the storm.
Michael is forecast to be the most destructive storm to hit the Panhandle in decades.
It was also the first major hurricane (Category 3 or above) to strike the Florida Panhandle since Hurricane Dennis in 2005.
- Power outages: More than 780,000 customers in Georgia, Florida, Alabama and SC without power.
Both NOAA and Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft have flown through the hurricane's four quadrants - and the NHC says, "The planes actually passed through the eye around the same time [Tuesday morning], and reported that they could see one another".
Across the Panhandle, roaring winds splintered trees and rooftops.
Powerful Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle with terrifying winds of 155 miles per hour Wednesday, splintering homes and submerging neighbourhoods before continuing its destructive march inland across the Southeast. The NHC forecasts up to 8 inches for the panhandle, southeast Alabama, and parts of southwest and central Georgia.
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