WHAT'S HAPPENING: Widespread catastrophic damage in Florida - 10/11/2018 3:43:35 PM

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Hurricane Michael weakened to tropical storm Thursday but remained a menace as it rolled across the Southeast, leaving two dead after tearing a path of devastation through the Florida Panhandle and parts of Georgia.

The storm made landfall on the Florida Panhandle Wednesday afternoon as one of the most powerful storms to ever hit the U.S. The intense Category 4 hurricane was packing maximum sustained winds of 155 miles per hour when it crashed ashore near Mexico Beach, a lightly populated tourist town about midway along the Panhandle.

One objective as recovery got under way was to help people who could be trapped in various areas along the coast, he told a news conference.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted he was hearing "stunning" reports of damage, including that "Mexico Beach is gone" and the "damage in Panama City is catastrophic".

Michael had left a trail of utility wires on roads, flattened tall pine trees and knocked a steeple from a church.

Lines at gasoline stations were growing long in Panama City as people prepared to leave areas under mandatory evacuation, Trepanier said.

"The roof fell in but we lived through it", he said.

Gov. Rick Scott warned Monday, "This is a massive storm.we've never seen anything like it in the Panhandle". As such, he's declared a state of emergency in three dozen counties while ordering evacuations for 10 counties, including Panama City Beach.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Florida's Democratic nominee for governor, filled sandbags with residents and urged residents of the state capital city to finish up emergency preparations quickly.

Now ranked as a Category 1 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson wind scale, Michael could grow into a Category 3, becoming the second major hurricane in the Atlantic basin this year following Florence last month, forecasters said.

Michael could dump up to a foot of rain over some Panhandle communities before its remnants go back out to sea by way of the mid-Atlantic states over the next few days.

Parts of North Carolina and Virginia could get as much as 9 inches (23 cm) of rain and life-threatening flash floods, the NHC said.

AccuWeather forecasters said the storm will likely hit Georgia has a Category 1 storm.

"Don't think that you can ride this out if you're in a low-lying area", Mr Nelson said on CNN.

As of 10 a.m., the hurricane watch for the coast of Alabama was discontinued.

The Florida Panhandle is the wide strip in the northwestern corner of the state bordered by the Gulf of Mexico to the south and Alabama and Georgia to the north.

"The wind that came through here was surreal".

Some 17,000 utility restoration workers were also on call.

Thousands of people hunkered down in shelters overnight after fleeing their homes ahead of the storm.

How many people have died?

Hurricane Michael has been upgraded to an "extremely dangerous" category 4 storm, hours before it is due to make landfall in Florida. Wind will also be a major factor.

"There are so many downed power lines and trees that it's nearly impossible to get through the city", Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson said. Tropical storm winds extended 185 miles (295 kilometres) from the centre, and hurricane-force winds reached out 45 miles (75 kilometres).

It could be the strongest hurricane to hit the Florida panhandle in recorded history. Only Hurricane Camille on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1969 and the so-called Labor Day hurricane of 1935 in the Florida Keys were more intense.

About 2,500 National Guard troops were deployed to assist with evacuations and storm preparations, and more than 4,000 others were on standby.

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