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See the wreck left by the third-largest hurricane ever to hit the US mainland.
USA TODAY

PANAMA CITY, Florida – The hottest hurricane of all time Florida's Panhandle hit destruction and death on Thursday when it became a tropical storm but still chaos in Georgia, which Carolinas and Virginia caused.

Hurricane Michael landed Wednesday about 20 miles southeast of here with historic, 155-mph sustain winds, fierce waves and side rain. Seven people were killed by the storm: five in Florida, one in Georgia and one in North Carolina.

Thursday was revealed the extent of the damage to this picturesque coastal town.

The sugar-sand beaches were littered with rubble as the rage of the storm – and the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico – finally receded. Two hospitals were evacuated. Swaths of houses were destroyed, power lines snapped like toothpicks, cars and trucks were tilted and shattered.

It will probably take weeks before the roads are cleared and the electricity is fully restored.

"It has ripped open The bomb exploded," said Chris Allen, 48, while investigating the damage to historic downtown.

In Panama City, the eponymous pines of the Forest Park neighborhood were transformed into devastating sledgehammers during the storm, shattering cars, roofs and outbuildings.

"That was the scariest experience I've ever had in my life," said Peter Muller of Panama Beach, referring to the ride on the storm. It's like a war zone or something out of a horror movie. "

Thousands of homes and businesses were torn apart as the storm hit the Florida Panhandle and raced to Georgia with hurricane force.

The damage was amazing. Aerial photographs showed that entire neighborhoods were extinguished. An 80-mile stretch of debris-strewn Interstate 10 west of Tallahassee was closed.

Beaches disappeared, military bases were damaged, boats were beaten into houses and trees were mowed like lawns. Power outages affected more than 1 million customers in five states: North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, and Alabama, according to PowerOutage.US, a site that tracks power outages nationwide.

More: [19659018] Hurricane Michael: What You Need to Know in Graphics

More: In two hours, hurricane Michael Panama City shakes

The Federal Emergency Management Agency warned that some areas could be without electricity for weeks.

"So many lives have been changed forever," said Florida Governor Rick Scott. "So many families have lost everything … This hurricane was an absolute monster."

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The region was in search and rescue mode like thousands of first responders and National Guard members fanned out to help. After the collapse of the roof, a helicopter crew pulled nine people out of a bathroom of a house, the Coast Guard said. The rescue took place among dozens of the agency, which conducted a search for survivors.

"One hundred percent of our focus is on the rescue and recovery from this devastating storm," said Scott.

In Panama City, the Bay Medical Center Sacred Heart had roof, structural and water damage. Michael has left a lot of broken glass, caused cooling and plumbing problems, and disabled information systems.

"Even with these challenges, we are committed to continuing to provide emergency medical care in emergency situations on our main campus," hospital chief Scott Campbell said.

Late Thursday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center said Michael was centered about 20 miles north-northwest of Raleigh, North Carolina. His strength had eased since his furious landfall, but Michael still sent sustained winds of 50 mph as it swept to the northeast at 24 mph.

The authorities confirmed seven deaths, and the number would probably rise. Five people died in Florida, including four in Gadsden County. An 11-year-old in Seminole County, Georgia, was killed early Thursday morning after a tree fell on a house during the storm. A man died Thursday in a storm-related traffic accident in North Carolina.

Portions of North Carolina, who had recovered from the hurricane rains of Florence's hurricane in September, were hit by up to 9 inches of rain by Michael, the weather forecast center said.

"For North Carolina, Michael is not as bad as Florence, but it adds unwelcome insult to injury," Gov. Roy Cooper said. "So we have to be on alert."

In this coastal city, the curfew was in place on Wednesday night and Thursday morning to prevent looting, although Jane Lindsey, 72, took no chances.

Lindsey and her husband spent the night in lounge chairs guarding their store, the elegant Endeavors Antique Emporium on Harrison Avenue. The wind tore off the roof, poured water into all three floors, and blew out the front windows.

"We have never seen this kind of devastation," Lindsey said, her feet crunching on the broken shards of her glass window. "It's such a loss for all these families, for all those little businesses."

Lindsay was so worried about her shop that she and her husband left the nearby house to the storm: "We do not even know if we have it. A house is gone, we can not go here."

Policemen patrolled the area at night and responded to cries for help with damaged patrol cars. The air smells like a sawmill, a legacy of thousands of shredded trees.

Federal officials have provided plans for thousands of homes with roof damage across the region, and government surveyors have checked the shores for additional damage. Thousands of contractors will replace the electricity pylons and lay new power lines, but the damage to business will take much longer.

Panama City and Panama City Beach are heavily dependent on tourism. About 17 million visitors sun themselves annually on the 27 miles of sandy beaches. The officials are optimistic that they will soon be ready for action again.

At least the beaches were largely untouched by the storm that hit the eastern side of Panama City hardest. Panama City Beach, a separate city, is west of there.

Panama City Beach is particularly popular with residents of Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, Florida, Missouri and Illinois, because it is a relatively easy drive for most Southerners has the nearest beaches in the Midwest. The city experienced a record-breaking tourism year. The number of visitors increased by 10.2 percent before the storm collapsed.

Officials promised that they would be open to trade as soon as possible so that tourists could enjoy Thanksgiving "Beach Home for the Holidays" and a 10,000 New Year Beachball

"Panama City Beach is so resilient and the entire community will work together to get things moving, "said Jayna Leach, a spokeswoman for Visit Panama City Beach. "When we all work together, we're back in service and back in the world-class destination we've always been."

Lindsey is not so sure. After years of trying to keep the store afloat, she does not know if she can survive the flood, wind damage and potential loss of precious antiques.

"Will it ever recover? Who knows? We would like to think it would come back, we had other setbacks, normal things that small towns go through, but how long will that take? Two years, three years, to return to the Legs to come? "Lindsey said. "We think, is this the time to give up, to retire?"

Bacon reported on McLean, Va. Post: The Associated Press; Kevin Robinson, The Pensacola News Journal

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President Donald Trump began his rally in Erie, Pennsylvania, telling everyone along the way of Hurricane Michael that the nation's thoughts and prayers were with them. He says that no effort is spared to help Florida recover. (October 10th)
AP

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