"It was very bad, and now there's just nothing left".
The third-strongest storm in recorded history to hit the mainland United States has battered north-west Florida, flooding beach towns and snapping trees.
What the 9-foot (2.7-meter) storm surge didn't destroy, the 155 miles per hour (250 kph) winds finished off.
Trees were downed in Panama City, northwest of Mexico Beach, buildings flattened, boats and electrical cables scattered. Flash flooding also was reported in the big North Carolina cities of Charlotte and Raleigh. Nearly 1.2 million homes and businesses were without power Thursday because of the storm.
Over 900,000 homes and businesses in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas were without power.
While some in the lesser-hit areas, like Tallahassee, started to get their power back on Thursday, more than 350,000 people remained without power in the Panhandle Friday morning.
Michael Williams, 70, waves to passing motorists while looking for food and water as downed trees prevent him from driving out of his damaged hom with his family in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Springfield, Fla., Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018.
"You can't make sense of it, but what you do is you take the situation, and what we have to make certain that our kids know is that we must be resilient", Smith said.
Many residents with destroyed or damaged homes counted themselves lucky to have survived. Homes were split open by fallen trees.
Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center treated some but the hospital evacuated 130 patients as it faced challenges running on generators after the storm knocked out power, ripped off part of its roof and smashed windows, according to a spokesman for the hospital's owner, HCA Healthcare Inc. "So many people lost their homes and some people lost their lives".
Residents like Scott Boutwell are in shock. Total damages from storm surge are estimated to be $3.7 billion, of which about ten percent will be insured. Boston-based Karen Clark & Company released that estimate Thursday, which includes privately insured wind and storm surge damage to residential, commercial and industrial properties and vehicles.
Six deaths have been confirmed - four in Florida, one in Georgia and one in North Carolina.
Five deaths were reported in Virginia, in addition to four in Florida, one in Georgia and one in North Carolina. Two died in North Carolina when a auto smashed into a fallen tree. 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.
But judging from the number of homes reduced to "sticks", he said "my sense is they are going to find more victims". But it moved fast and intensified quickly, and emergency authorities lamented that many people ignored the warnings.
Among those brought to safety were nine people rescued by helicopter from a bathroom of their home in Panama City, another one of the hardest-hit spots, after their roof collapsed, Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronald Hodges said.
State officials said Mexico Beach was under mandatory evacuation orders but some residents chose to stay and try to ride out the storm.
National Guard troops made their way into the ground-zero town and found 20 survivors initially Wednesday night, and more rescue crews are arriving.
Most of the full-time residents, LaFountain said, have some connection to the hospitality industry.
Mishelle McPherson's elderly neighbour was among those who stayed behind. The woman lived in a small cinderblock house about 150 yards (140 metres) from the Gulf and thought she would be OK.
However, Alan Harris, Seminole County Emergency Management Director, told the state Emergency Operations Center during its 8:30 a.m. briefing that so far, the state is standing down from setting up a temporary mortuary, a sign that mass casualties, at least for now, have not been found. "Do you think it would have floated away?"
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