Devastation in Florida, flooding elsewhere — WHAT'S HAPPENING

Hurricane Michael was forecast to become a Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 120 mph when it makes landfall in the Flo

Sarah Radney saw trees falling down all around her grandparents' home when Hurricane Michael roared over Georgia.

Rescuers will pick through the damage of otherwise thriving beach communities searching for survivors on Friday after Hurricane Michael, one of the most powerful storms in USA history, slammed into the Florida Panhandle, killing at least seven people.

Under a clear blue sky, families living along the Florida Panhandle emerged from shelters and hotels to a perilous landscape of shattered homes and shopping centers, beeping security alarms, wailing sirens and hovering helicopters.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned it was a "monstrous hurricane", and his Democratic opponent for the Senate, Sen.

And unless the rate of greenhouse gas emissions changes, hurricanes are expected to intensify more rapidly in the coming decades, the scientific research group Climate Central said. An 80-mile (130-kilometer) stretch of Interstate 10, the main east-west route along the Panhandle, was closed.

Michael, so powerful that it remained a hurricane for 12 hours after making landfall in Mexico Beach, thrashed the Carolinas and Virginia and was growing stronger again over the Atlantic, where the National Hurricane Center predicted it would eventually menace Britain with tropical-storm force winds. Rows and rows of other homes were turned into piles of splintered lumber or were crumpled and slumped at odd angles.

The concern was for people who ignored evacuation orders ahead of the storm and stayed put in communities that were demolished by Michael's ferocity on Wednesday. There's no water, no power and emergency officials have no access to many towns from the Florida Panhandle to Virginia.

A National Guard team went into the area and found 20 survivors Wednesday night, and more crews pushed into the stricken zone on Thursday. James E. King Jr., 45, got caught in a flash flood around 3:30 p.m. Thursday and authorities discovered his body about seven hours later, police said. The woman lived in a small cinderblock house about 150 yards from the Gulf and thought she would be OK. That home is now smashed, with no sign of the woman.

Mishelle McPherson climbs over rubble as she searches for her friend in Mexico Beach, Fla. "Do you think it would have floated away?"

"All of my furniture was floating", said Ms Marquardt, 67.

"When it came to this hurricane, it was an overachiever", he said. "It was bad, and now there's just nothing left".

Home after home was razed from its foundations in the town of around 1,000 people, leaving just bare concrete slabs. "You want to check on things and begin the recovery process", Scott said.

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All told, more than 900,000 homes and businesses in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas were without power.

Three other people died in Gadsden County, Hightower said.

Mexico Beach and Panama City were among the most devastated areas.

Downed power lines lay almost everywhere.

Aluminium siding was shredded and homes were split by fallen trees.

Hundreds of residents were rescued Thursday from cars, apartments and homes flooded by rushing water. Pine trees were stripped and snapped off about 20 feet high. Videos of the damaged base show roofs ripped off hangars and a fighter jet on display toppled onto the ground. The hurricane damaged hospitals and nursing homes in Panama City, and officials worked to evacuate hundreds of patients. The damage at Bay Medical Sacred Heart included blown-out windows, a cracked exterior wall and a roof collapse in a maintenance building.

The state mental hospital in Chattahoochee, which has a section for the criminally insane, was cut off by land, and food and supplies were being flown in, authorities said.

The major storm will also make some locations in the Florida Panhandle and close-by areas uninhabitable for weeks or months.

A driver in North Carolina also was killed when a tree fell on his vehicle. Others include Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland.

High winds, downed trees, streets inundated by rising waters and multiple rescues of motorists from waterlogged cars played out around Virginia and neighbouring North Carolina.

By early Friday morning the remnants of Michael had moved into the Atlantic Ocean northeast of Norfolk, Virginia, the National Hurricane Centre said.

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