They had watched it gain strength from a category two storm on Tuesday as it crossed the Gulf of Mexico and headed for Florida. Rows of homes were ripped from foundations and roofs were peeled off schools by the near-record-force storm blamed for six deaths.
So far, counties along the hard-hit northwest Florida coast have reported no deaths related to the storm.
Shell-shocked survivors who barely escaped with their lives told of terrifying winds, surging floodwaters and homes cracking apart.
“The videos that you guys see and pictures you guys see does not tell the story of what is down here, you can’t even put a roof on because there’s no houses to put the roofs on, they’re destroyed it looks like they lined up ten tornadoes and went through” Sauer said. Storm surge is worse now than it was 100 years ago, thanks to the rise in sea levels.
“You can’t drive a vehicle anywhere, you can’t do anything because it’s littered with houses, pieces of houses”, said Patricia Mulligan, who rode out the storm with her family in a condo in Mexico Beach, a town of mom-and-pop shops and sport-fishing businesses about 56km southeast of Panama City.
Row after row of beachfront homes were so obliterated by Michael’s surging seas and howling winds that only slabs of concrete in the sand remain, a testament that this was ground zero when the epic Category 4 hurricane slammed ashore at midweek.
Hurricane Michael left the USA state of Florida battered and bruised on Thursday, as search-and-rescue teams set to work.
The National Hurricane Center says the core of Michael will move across eastern Georgia into Central South Carolina on Thursday morning.
“This is what we expect with storm surge and high wind events”, said Craig Fugate, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a former emergency management chief for the state of Florida.
The tally of lives lost across the South stood at 14, including the victim found in the rubble of Mexico Beach.
Sarah Radney saw trees falling down all around her grandparents’ home when Hurricane Michael roared over Georgia.
If the sky was blue again on Thursday mid-day, the streets of Panama City were covered with branches of trees, roofs torn off, pieces of glass.
Coastal Florida cities have been damaged beyond recognition while homes, businesses, and agriculture have been tattered or flooded from Georgia to Virginia.
Numerous injured in Florida were taken to hard-hit Panama City, 20 miles (32 km) northwest of Mexico Beach.
Emergency officials said they had completed an initial “hasty search” of the stricken area, looking for the living or the dead, and had begun more careful inspections of thousands of ruined buildings.
“I have had employees going to the communities where our kids live, going door to door and checking”, Principal Britt Smith by phone. The second floor of some apartments are just gone.
By 11 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT), it had 50-mph (85-kph) winds and had pushed northeast to within 35 miles (60 km) of Charlotte, North Carolina, the National Hurricane Center said. The order is created to mobilize resources, help Virginia mitigate any damage, and to streamline the process that the Commonwealth uses to provide assistance to other states through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.
The hurricane pummeled communities across the Panhandle and turned streets into roof-high waterways.
Rescuers intensified efforts Saturday to find survivors who might be trapped amid the ruins of a small Florida Panhandle community almost obliterated by Hurricane Michael, where one body has already been recovered, tempers are flaring, and power could be out for weeks.
Brooks said he wasn’t able to get out much overnight to fully assess the damage in the county, because downed power lines and trees made roads impassable in the darkness. Google raised $1 million for Hurricane Florence efforts as well. Only Hurricane Camille on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1969 and the so-called Labor Day hurricane of 1935 in the Florida Keys were more intense.