TEMPO.CO, Port St. Joe - Dazed Florida residents picked through the wreckage left by Hurricane Michael on Thursday after the near-record-force storm tore apart coastal towns and was blamed for seven deaths.
Michael smashed into Florida's northwest coast near the small town of Mexico Beach on Wednesday with screeching 250 kilometer per hour winds, pushing a wall of seawater inland.
"The wind was really tearing us apart. It was so scary you’d poo yourself,” said retiree Tom Garcia, 60, who was trapped inside his Mexico Beach home as water poured in to waist height.
He and his partner Cheri Papineau, 50, pushed on their door for an hour to stop the storm surge bursting in as their four dogs sat on top of a bed floating in their home.
The beach town looked like it had been carpet bombed, with little left in the first blocks from the beach. Further inland, about half the homes were reduced to piles of wood and siding. Helicopters flew overhead looking for survivors as bulldozers plowed paths along roads filled with shredded homes.
Cheryl Shipman, 72, pointed to a few broken red wooden boards, saying "this used to be my three storied house."
Michael, the third most powerful hurricane ever to hit the U.S. mainland, weakened overnight to a tropical storm. But it marched northeast, toppling trees with 50 mph (80 kph) winds and bringing "life threatening" flash flooding to areas of Georgia and Virginia, still recovering from Hurricane Florence.
At least seven people were killed in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina from falling trees and other hurricane-related incidents, according to state officials.
Emergency services carried out dozens of rescues of people caught in swiftly moving floodwaters in North Carolina.
Virginia declared a state of emergency in advance of the storm.
Many of the injured in Florida were taken to hard-hit Panama City, 32 km northwest of Mexico Beach. Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center was treating some, but the hospital evacuated 130 patients as it faced challenges of running on generators after the storm knocked out power, ripped off part of its roof and smashed windows, a spokesman for the hospital's owner HCA Healthcare said in an email.