The death toll from Hurricane Michael is expected to rise after at least 18 people died across four states when the “unbelievably destructive” storm made landfall on Wednesday.
Among those who have lost their lives in the Category 4 hurricane include at least eight people in Florida, five in Virginia, three in North Carolina and one in Georgia.
The US’s National Weather Service says it’s the most powerful storm to hit the Florida Panhandle since records began in 1851.
Almost 1.5 million homes are without power and 20,000 residents have taken to emergency shelters in five states.
Local emergency services have been using sniffer dogs, drones, bulldozers and other heavy equipment to push a path through debris to find survivors.
Emergency authorities say the disaster scenes remain chaotic, with hundreds of people reported missing.
Rescuers are going door-to-door through the oceanfront communities of Mexico Beach, Port St Joe and Panama City which bore the brunt of the storm’s wrath searching for residents who may have been trapped or killed.
So far the Coast Guard has rescued 129 people, boats have been snapped in half and even a large ship was hurled onto the shoreline of Port St Joe.
The storm tore entire neighbourhoods apart, reducing homes and businesses to piles of wood and siding, damaging roads and leaving scenes of complete and utter devastation.
The eye of the storm reportedly cut straight over Tindall Air Force Base on the Gulf of Mexico, home to 55 F-22 stealth fighters, according to The New York Times. At $399 million, the final count of how many remain wrecked inside hangars or on air strips is unknown as officials say 33 were sent to a base in Ohio.
The economic cost of Michael is yet to be determined as reports emerge of entire crops of cotton and soybeans and large-scale farms including a 2-million-plus chicken farm being wiped out.
US President Donald Trump took to Twitter to announce a trip to Florida and Georgia next week, saying “people have no idea how hard Hurricane Michael has hit the great state of Georgie”.
He told reporters Michael was “unbelievably destructive” and the “fastest hurricane anybody had seen”.
“It was incredibly powerful … people are saying it’s the third most powerful that they’ve seen hit our country anywhere,” he said.
People have no idea how hard Hurricane Michael has hit the great state of Georgia. I will be visiting both Florida and Georgia early next week. We are working very hard on every area and every state that was hit – we are with you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2018
Bay County officials previously said 56 people had chosen to stay in their homes in Mexico Beach and that search and rescue teams were trying to account for those people.
Hurricane Michael blew ashore near the small Florida Panhandle town of Mexico Beach on Wednesday afternoon with winds of up 250km/h, pushing a wall of seawater inland, causing widespread flooding.
Hurricane Michael was the first Category 4 storm to make landfall along the Florida Panhandle since records began in 1851. View it's path from the Gulf to the Atlantic using GOES visible and infrared imagery. pic.twitter.com/gVA87b3BIf
— NWS (@NWS) October 13, 2018
The storm, which in less than two days grew from a tropical storm to a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, tore apart entire neighbourhoods in the Panhandle, reducing homes to naked concrete foundations.
Authorities in the epicentre of the hurricane disaster in Bay County were virtually without telephone or internet service – except for the emergency-911 system – until Saturday (late afternoon Friday local time), making communications internally and with the public difficult.
Social media websites were filled with messages from people trying to reach missing family members in Florida’s Bay and Gulf Counties.
— TIME (@TIME) October 12, 2018
By Saturday (Friday morning) the remnants of Michael had moved into the Atlantic Ocean northeast of Norfolk, Virginia, but still could bring up to 13cm of rain to parts of New England, the National Hurricane Centre said.
About 1.5 million homes and businesses could be without power for weeks in the most damaged parts of Florida to Virginia, according to utility companies.
Pineapple Willie's in Panama City Beach. We ate there last Saturday😭😭😭😭. This restaurant has the best friend shrimp in the world. You cannot put it down even when you're stuffed. #PanamaCity #panamacity #hurricanemichael #weatherchannel #Florida # pic.twitter.com/LV961HRDsd
— Brian West (@_Brian_West_) October 13, 2018
The number of people in emergency shelters was expected to swell to 20,000 across five states by Saturday (Friday local time), said Brad Kieserman of the American Red Cross.
Even as rescuers searched the rubble for survivors or the deceased, some residents of Mexico Beach were nervously trickling bac, expressing hope the place, nicknamed “the Forgotten Coast,” would not change too much as it rebuilds.