'Changed Forever': Florida Panhandle devastated by Michael

Floridians scurried to prepare after Gov. Rick Scott extended a state of emergency to 35 counties and activated 1,250 National Guardsmen for hurricane duty

A day after slamming into Florida's Gulf Coast as a strong Category 4 hurricane, Michael still had top sustained winds of 50 mph (85 kmh) and higher gusts, with tropical storm-force winds reaching 160 miles (260 km) from its center. The destruction along Florida's white-sand northern Gulf Coast was called catastrophic.

Scott was set to travel Thursday afternoon with the Florida National Guard to Panama City and Mexico Beach, where Michael came ashore midday Wednesday with 155 miles per hour maximum sustained winds, the strongest ever recorded in the region.

Emergency officials in SC are reporting no injuries or deaths so far as Tropical Storm Michael moves across the state. And while forecasters said Michael was gradually losing its tropical traits, it was a new chapter would begin as an extratropical storm predicted to intensify with gale force winds once it starts cross out into the Atlantic.

As of noon ET Friday, the storm had left almost 439,000 accounts without power outages in North Carolina, the state's Emergency Management Agency said. Even in areas that have been declared safe, officials are warning residents to drive only in the daytime, when they can see downed power lines and other hazards.

Flash flooding was also reported in the big North Carolina cities of Charlotte and Raleigh. Similar scenes played out in parts of Virginia as the storm raced seaward.

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

It devastated Florida's Panhandle region, leaving much of the area in ruins.

The Florida Highway Patrol has closed an 80-mile stretch of Interstate 10 to clear debris from Hurricane Michael.

In one community, Panama City, most homes were still standing, but no property was left undamaged. Downed power lines and twisted street signs lay all around. Aluminum siding was shredded and homes were split by fallen trees.

Hundreds of cars had broken windows.

Patients were evacuated from damaged hospitals and nursing homes in Panama City, a town with a population of 35,000.

The retired mill worker has spent more than half his life on the coast and weathered his share of storms.

An insurance company that produces models for catastrophes estimated Michael caused about $8 billion in damage.

CNN video taken from a helicopter above Mexico Beach on Thursday morning showed entire blocks of structures that had been washed away by the storm surge that put the community underwater. It doesn't include losses covered by the National Flood Insurance Program.

Long said many Florida buildings were not built to withstand a storm above the strength of a Category 3 hurricane on the five-level Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

- The human cost: A man in Gadsden County, Florida, killed by a falling tree, and an 11-year-old girl in Seminole County, Georgia, killed when a carport blew through the roof of her home. A driver in North Carolina was killed when a tree fell on his vehicle.

Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith near the vulnerable coast said his deputies had gone door to door in some places urging people to evacuate.

Authorities are preparing to set up extra shelters and move people into more secure areas.

Six Florida counties remain under curfews, as work crews try to push debris off of roads so utility and emergency crews can start to fix the damage and reach people who need help after one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the U.S.

In hard-hit Mexico Beach alone, state officials say, 285 people in Mexico Beach defied a mandatory evacuation order ahead of Michael.

Now they have the grim task of accounting for all who stayed behind.

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