The most powerful storm on record to hit the Florida Panhandle left behind five dead and a trail of destruction. As Hurricane Michael barreled through Georgia and the Carolinas, those who decided to stay behind in Florida woke up to survey exactly how much damage had been done.
The hardest-hit community appears to be Mexico Beach, the exact point where the Category 4 hurricane made landfall Wednesday. Homes there have been completely destroyed, according to the Tampa Bay Times, with toilets and refrigerators scattered all over the streets. Shattered trees have made the roads impassable.
“Fires burn with no one to put them out,” the Times reports from the scene. “Cars and trucks stacked like toys. Stairs lead to houses that no longer exist. Trees bent over, as if trying to run from something.”
As the sun came up, photographs of communities smashed to pieces by the storm started to emerge. At Mexico Beach, photos on social media showed houses swamped by flash floods or blown apart by the winds. Roofs have been ripped off and trees have been torn out of the ground.
Nearby Panama City has also been hit hard. One photo showed a man inspecting the damage the hurricane had done to his shop, which appears to have been entirely gutted by the storm. Another shows the familiar McDonalds yellow arches twisted out of shape by the extreme winds that, at 155 mph, were just shy of a Category 5, the strongest on the hurricane scale.
Others have lost more than property. Four people reportedly died in Gadsden County, outside of Tallahassee, including a Greensboro man was reportedly killed when a tree crashed on his home, while in southern Georgia, an 11-year-old girl was killed when a mobile carport picked up by winds crashed through a home and hit her in the head.
There are an estimated 840,000 reported power outages from the storm, including 347,000 in Georgia, 341,000 in Florida, 76,000 out in South Carolina, and 58,000 in Alabama.
The storm’s powerful eyewall passed over Chattahoochee where it tore buildings apart and “entirely cut off” the state’s largest psychiatric hospital, the Miami Herald reports. Rescue groups have dropped off supplies via helicopter.
As the hurricane intensified so quickly—going from a tropical storm to a major hurricane in just two days—it left little time for preparations.
The lobby of the Holiday Inn Express off Interstate 75 in Perry, Georgia, became a makeshift way shelter as Michael’s 90 mph winds barreled through southern Georgia. The Category 1 winds forced drivers to get off the highway at all costs and seek shelter anywhere there were lights still on.
A Holiday Inn took in everyone from first responders from Kentucky to residents of the nearby Fair Harbor mobile park. “I heard the tornado siren at 3 p.m.,” one mobile home resident told The Daily Beast, “I just got out of there.”
“This is one of the worst I’ve seen in my lifetime,” added Lauren Day, the night desk manager. On everyone’s mind in Georgia was Hurricane Irma, which followed the same path 13 months ago. “I thought we’d get at least a two-year break,” said one of the responders.