FEMA focusing on search and rescue after Michael passes through

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Hurricane Michael grew quickly, from a tropical depression to a Category 1 storm in less than 24 hours, then ballooning all the way up to a major Category 4 storm as it raced up from the Caribbean Sea to the Gulf of Mexico. An 80-mile stretch of Interstate 10, the main east-west route along the Panhandle, is still closed because of debris. The first weather advisory about the storm went out on Saturday; days later, it became one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to strike the US mainland.

"Do not risk your life, leave NOW if you were told to do so", The National Weather Service warned on October 3 as Hurricane Michael swelled to an "extremely dangerous" category 4 storm. Roofs had been peeled off. "We'll make it go fast". Twisted street signs lay on the ground.

Numerous damaged Florida buildings were not built to withstand a storm above the strength of a Category 3 hurricane on the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale.

"That is some good news, but for the half-million people that don't have power, we understand the frustration, we're doing everything we can, but it could be multiple weeks in some of those areas", he said. Entire roofs were torn away and dropped onto a road. Part of the reason he made time to speak to Morning Edition, Gisbert said, was out of the hope that his contacts with the local power company might hear him and get a sense of what was going on.

Coastal Florida cities have been damaged beyond recognition while homes, businesses, and agriculture have been tattered or flooded from Georgia to Virginia.

Bay County officials previously said 56 people had chosen to stay in their homes in Mexico Beach and that search and rescue teams were trying to account for those people.

Hit head-on by Hurricane Michael, numerous homes in this resort town of about 1,190 people were shattered or ripped from their foundations.

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As the catastrophic damage across the Florida Panhandle came into view 48 hours after the hurricane struck, there was little doubt the death toll would rise. Aluminum siding was shredded and homes were split by fallen trees.

Left behind in Hurricane Michael's wake: tens of thousands without homes, hospitals too broken down to provide care, hundreds of thousands cut-off from power and with no way to contact friends and loved ones. He says the number of rescues remains fluid and there were no reports of deaths so far from the Coast Guard's missions.

The video shows collapsed roofing and walls, scattered debris and mangled building materials. Pine trees were stripped and snapped off about 20 feet high. The mental hospital has a section that houses the criminally insane, but they say the facility itself has not been breached.

Seminole County Emergency Management Agency director Travis Brooks said it wasn't a tree but a carport that hit her home and killed her. A driver in North Carolina was killed when a tree fell on his vehicle.

By 8am on Thursday it had been downgraded to a tropical storm with 85km/h (50mph) winds as it pushed through Georgia into the Carolinas, the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said.

It is expected to continue pelting rain along the southeast with 4 - 7 inches (10 - 18 centimeters) expected from SC to the southern mid-Atlantic region.

Based on wind speed, it was the fourth-strongest, behind the Labor Day storm, Camille and Andrew in 1992.