(ATLANTA) — Hurricane Michael, a ferocious and historic storm, has killed 11 people, including an 11-year-old girl, and left a trail of destruction across Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.
Michael is the fourth most powerful storm on record to hit the U.S., and the worst since Hurricane Camille in 1969.
It is also the first Category 4 hurricane to ever make landfall on the Florida Panhandle, and “the worst storm” that area has ever seen, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said.
The hurricane hit the Panhandle in the northwest part of the state early Wednesday afternoon, demolishing homes and submerging entire neighborhoods.
ABC News chief meteorologist Ginger Zee said the ruins in Mexico Beach, Florida, were “eerily reminiscent to the scene I saw in Gulfport [Louisiana] in 2005,” after Hurricane Katrina.
Michael then roared through southwest Georgia and into North and South Carolina, states that are still reeling from historic flooding left by Hurricane Florence last month.
At least 11 people lost their lives in the massive storm.
Four people died in Gadsden County, Florida, said a sheriff’s office spokesperson.
In Georgia, an 11-year-old girl, Sarah Radney, 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. Her official cause of death was due to massive blunt force trauma, Seminole County Coroner Chad Smith told ABC News.
Michael is the first major hurricane to blow into Georgia since 1898.
In North Carolina, a 38-year-old man was killed when a tree fell onto his car as he was driving, Iredell County officials said.
In Virginia, Lt. Brad Clark, a Hanover County firefighter, was killed while helping at the scene of a car crash Thursday, according to Hanover Fire-EMS and Virginia State Police.
In Pittsylvania County, Virginia, 45-year-old James King Jr. died after his car was caught in a flash flood and he was swept away, state police said.
Devastation in Florida
The Florida Panhandle is the wide strip in the northwest corner of the state bordered by the Gulf of Mexico to the south and Alabama and Georgia to the north. Its largest city is Pensacola, with a population approaching half a million.
Popular with tourists for its beaches, the area also has many year-round residents.
Michael left the coastal community of Mexico Beach destroyed, with the storm surge ripping multiple houses from their foundations, sending them bobbing along the main road that runs through the town.
ABC News’ Ginger Zee said she saw an “entire home, a well-built home, rolling down the street.”
“It makes you shake,” Zee added.
With cell service knocked out, many people are isolated. There are now empty spots where dozens of homes are no longer standing.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted he was hearing “stunning” reports of damage, including that “Mexico Beach is gone” and the “damage in Panama City is catastrophic.”
He described Mexico Beach as an “old old Florida town” that “feels like a trip back in time,” and Panama City as “a vibrant seaside city” popular for families and students to vacation.
“It will take a long time to recover from this. We will do everything we can to make sure the federal government does it’s 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.
“It sounded like a freight train coming from every direction,” Krista Miller, who stayed behind in her 111-year-old home in Apalachicola Bay, told “Good Morning America.”
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.”
As cleanup and rescue efforts were underway Thursday, Gov. Scott urged residents to stay off the roads.
“The worst thing you can do now is act 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.”
Tyndall Air Force Base, located 12 miles east of Panama City, suffered “serve damage to the base infrastructure,” the Air Force said.
No personnel assigned to stay there during the storm were injured, the Air Force added.
President Donald Trump has issued a major disaster declaration for Florida, allowing for more help from the federal government to flow into affected communities.
Residents in the dark
Michael has left over 1,600,000 households and businesses without power across Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.
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 the shelter population to swell to 20,000 by Thursday or Friday.
The storm “grew into a monster,” Trump said Wednesday from the Oval Office.
Despite the storm, Trump went to his Wednesday night rally in Erie, Pennsylvania.
“We have thousands of people lined up. … It would have been very unfair,” Trump told reporters when asked about whether he was thinking of canceling it.
He later spoke about Hurricane Michael during the rally.
“Our thoughts and prayers on behalf of the nation to everyone out there in the path of Hurricane Michael,” Trump told supporters Wednesday night. “All of Pennsylvania and America sends its unwavering love and support.”
“I’ll be traveling to Florida very, very shortly, and I just want to wish them all the best. God speed,” Trump added.
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