Hurricane Michael leaves widespread catastrophic damage in Florida

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Hurricane Michael - now classified as a tropical storm - made landfall in Florida about 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, but the vast scope of the damage is still now only beginning to come into sharp focus on Thursday.

Television news footage showed homes submerged in floodwaters up to their roofs in Mexico Beach.

Much of downtown Port St. Joe, 19 km east of Mexico Beach, was flooded after Michael snapped boats in two and hurled a large ship onto the shore, residents said.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio said restoring power was going to be "long & difficult" as the storm "shredded" its electric grid. Nine people had to be rescued by helicopter from a bathroom of a home in hard-hit Panama City after their roof collapsed, Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronald Hodges said. As many as 389,639 customers in Florida, 484,487 customers in North Carolina, 117,000 customers in Georgia, 24,000 customers in Alabama, 9,163 customers in SC and 61,067 customers in Virginia.

FEMA officials famously use the Waffle House Index as a way of measuring storm damage: Since the diner chain is ubiquitous in the southeast, and rarely shuts down in extreme weather, seeing the Waffle House closed down before a storm is a sign that things are about to get extremely bad.

One man died after a tree fell on his home and local authorities reported the death of a child in Seminola County, Georgia. That storm had maximum-sustained winds of 90 miles per hour, the NHC said. No injuries were reported, but there's roof damage to "nearly every home" on the base.

The storm's eye is moving across southern Georgia and towards the Carolinas, which are still reeling from epic floods caused by Hurricane Florence last month.

Other parts of Georgia also were hit hard by the storm.

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Uprooted trees, downed power poles and limited communications have greatly hindered first responders and families trying to reach residents in need.

"I have had employees going to the communities where our kids live, going door to door and checking", said Principal Britt Smith by phone.

Michael's strong winds lifted a metal carport into the air before it crashed into a Seminole County, Georgia, house and hit the girl's head, emergency officials said.

Kent Greene, the county's director of emergency management and fire services, said in an email that the man died Thursday after his auto was struck by a tree on a highway east of Statesville.

By early Friday morning the remnants of Michael had moved into the Atlantic Ocean northeast of Norfolk, Virginia, the National Hurricane Center said. The lead-gray water was so high that roofs were about all that could be seen of many homes. A main electric utility in Virginia said more than 585,000 customers were affected.

Now, rescuers and residents are struggling to get into the ground-zero town to assess the damage and search for the hundreds of people believed to have stayed behind.

As the storm moved northward, it tore through Panama City. A neighbor told McCall that all the docks in the area were destroyed and many people are stuck in their homes as the roads have been blocked with debris.

Michael's strength may reflect the effect of climate change on storms.

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