Michael: What we know about the deadly storm

Hurricane Michael, the fiercest storm to hit Florida in more than 80 years and the third-most powerful ever to strike the US mainland, battered the state's Gulf coast on Wednesday with roof-shredding winds, towering surf and torrential rains.

This is a storm with unprecedented wind speeds hitting the Florida Panhandle, coming on top of Hurricane Florence with another six weeks of hurricane season left.

By 5 a.m., Michael's eye was about 45 miles (72 kilometres) west of Augusta, Georgia, packing top winds of 50 mph (80 kph) and moving at 21 mph (33 kph) into SC, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

Roy and his Sarah's step-mother Amber said Thursday that Sarah loved being around her big family, dancing and singing and made everything more fun. Thousands hunkered down in shelters overnight after fleeing their homes to escape the fast-approaching storm.

The Category 4 hurricane once had wind speeds of up to 155 miles per hour.

"The wind that came through here was surreal".

Florida Senator Bill Nelson went to Panama City, up the coast from Mexico Beach, and was stunned by what he saw. "It's unlivable. It's heartbreaking".

Hours earlier, meteorologists watched satellite imagery in complete awe as the storm intensified.

"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 sportfishing businesses about 35 miles southeast of Panama City.

"Michael is forecast to re-strengthen some Thursday night and Friday when it moves off the east coast of the United States and becomes a post-tropical cyclone on Friday", the NHC added.

The sun will rise across the Florida Panhandle sometime around 7 on Thursday, and Hurricane Michael's trail of destruction will begin to come into clearer focus. "We're trying to get into areas like Mexico Beach, get the teams in to be able to assess damage". The fate of about 280 residents who authorities said defied evacuation orders was unknown.

Walls and windows were sucked out of a Holiday Inn in Panama City, where many evacuees were sheltered. "My God, it's scary".

"I've never been in that position before", said Sam Gray.

It was the strongest to hit the continental U.S. since Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

- Top winds: 155 miles per hour, strong enough to completely destroy homes and cause weekslong power outages.

The hurricane tore through Florida with powerful winds, uprooting trees, shredding roofs and turning over cars.

"I wanted to let you guys know exactly what is going on", she said, speaking about a curfew that had been instituted in nearby Bay County because of concerns about looting from the outages.

An estimated 375,000 people in more than 20 counties were ordered or advised to evacuate. Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner told local election supervisors that if their offices were closed due to the hurricane, they could accept paper applications when their offices reopen.

In all, about 2,500 of the town's 3,500 residents stayed put, with many caught off guard by the storm's rapid escalation. "This happened so quickly", he said.

Hurricane Michael made landfall on Wednesday afternoon as category three storm with 125mph (200km/h) winds in the state's Panhandle region. This storm could also have some profound effects on how the sector thinks about (and models) loss potential from Gulf Coast hurricanes, as a result of the perhaps unexpected pre-landfall intensification and distance inland that hurricane force winds were recorded.

  • Carolyn Briggs