Rescue teams using sniffer dogs carried out a grim search for victims of Hurricane Michael on Friday (Oct 12) amid fears that the death toll from the monster storm - which now stands at 11 - could rise. The streets closest to the water looked as if a bomb had gone off.
"This is a war zone".
Bay County officials said 56 people chose to stay in their homes in Mexico Beach. Rescuers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) used dogs, drones and Global Positioning System in the search.
Michael severely damaged cotton, timber, pecan and peanut crops, causing estimated liabilities as high as $1.9 billion and affecting up to 3.7 million crop acres (1.5 million hectares), said Brad Rippey, a meteorologist for the US Agriculture Department. But "we have to make sure things are safe".
The storm, a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, tore apart entire neighbourhoods in the Panhandle and many houses in Mexico Beach were reduced to naked concrete foundations or piles of rubble.
While a Florida military base in the hurricane's trajectory was evacuated and its planes flown hundreds of miles away, prisoners were not evacuated, and numerous region's poor people found they had nowhere to go until it was too late to get out.
"So many lives have been changed forever".
State officials said Mexico Beach was under mandatory evacuation orders but some residents made a decision to stay and try to ride out the storm.
Rebecca McAuliffe said: "You can't even recognize some of the areas in town".
NOAA says the website will be updated as more flights take place.
Among those brought to safety were nine people rescued by helicopter from a bathroom of their home in hard-hit Panama City after their roof collapsed, Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronald Hodges said.
"I was going to stay here until it turned to a Cat 4", he said. The town was under a mandatory evacuation order as the rapidly developing storm closed in, but some people were determined to ride it out.
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The campground had been full just before Michael blew in and covered it in 2 feet (61 cm) of debris and seaweed, McMillan said. "I've got two trees on the roof and a couple of holes on the roof".
He said that authorities were yet to fully explore areas like Mexico Beach in Florida, which he called "ground zero" after it was pummelled by the hurricane.
"I'll be traveling to Florida very, very shortly, and I just want to wish them all the best".
It was also Georgia that has reported the only two deaths from the storm, according to the Associated Press, which includes an 11-year-old girl in the southwest part of the state.
At least three deaths have been blamed on Michael, the most powerful hurricane to hit the continental U.S.in over 50 years.
- Power outages: Roughly a million customers in Georgia, Florida, Alabama and SC lost power.
President Donald Trump said meanwhile that he planned to visit Florida and Georgia next week.
UPDATE: NOAA's #GOES16 shows the explosive energy of #HurricaneMichael, captured in this "sandwich loop" - a combination of visible and infrared imagery - this morning, October 10, 2018. "Hurricane conditions will also spread well inland across portions of the Florida Panhandle, southeastern Alabama and southwestern Georgia", the NHC advised.
"We are with you!" he tweeted.
The Coast Guard said it rescued at least 27 people before and after the hurricane came ashore, mostly from homes along the Florida coastline, and searched for more victims.
The storm is strengthening as it crosses the Gulf of Mexico, and the hurricane is predicted to be a major storm when it hits the Florida panhandle on Wednesday.
About 5,000 U.S. servicemen were deployed to help with relief and recovery efforts, the Pentagon said, using 100 helicopters and 1,800 high-water vehicles.