PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. - Hurricane Michael's battering waves swamped streets and docks and shrieking winds splintered trees and rooftops. The most powerful hurricane on record to hit Florida's Panhandle left wide destruction and at least one person dead and wasn't nearly finished Thursday as it crossed Georgia toward the Carolinas, still reeling from epic flooding in Hurricane Florence.
Authorities said at least one person has died, a man killed by a tree falling on a Panhandle home. Search and rescue crews were expected to escalate efforts to reach hardest-hit areas and check for anyone trapped or injured in the storm debris.
Meanwhile, residents of Panama City Beach are only beginning to evaluate the damage left behind after Hurricane Michael made landfall Wednesday afternoon. Michael tore to shore packing 155 mph winds, rough surf and storm surge and dumped several inches of rain. This is the most powerful storm to come make landfall in this portion of the Gulf Coast and its destruction will be felt for a long time.
Wednesday evening, officials set up curfews across the Florida Panhandle not only because of the damage and power outages but to prevent looters. Officers were arresting those who violated the curfew.
FOX 5’s Will Nunley has been on the beach-front community since Tuesday afternoon. During the height of the storm, his crew took shelter in a nearby enclosed concrete parking garage. They were able to take some video of the storm.
Nunley said pieces of sheet metal was launched through the air. The punishing wind also sent plywood and anything not bolted down through the air. The projectiles being picked up by the roaring wind which would cut right through anyone who would dare to try to stand directly in its path.
A survey of the area shows signs tossed, trees snapped, and damage to several businesses and homes.
Communications were also affected by the storm. Cell service is also out in the area. Local media in the panhandle struggled to stay on the air as towers took hits during the storm.
One of the things which might have helped the Florida Panhandle would be the fact Michael was a fast-moving storm and didn’t get a chance to push a big wall of water onto the popular tourist destinations rendering even move destruction.
Hurricane Michael has left extensive damage in Panama City, with broken and uprooted trees and power lines down nearly everywhere. Roofs were peeled off and homes split open by fallen trees. Twisted street signs lay on the ground. Residents emerged early Wednesday evening to assess damage when rains stopped, though skies were still overcast and windy.
A pine tree punched a hole in the roof of the apartment where 29-year-old Vance Beu was staying with his mother. The roar of the storm sounded like a jet engine as the wind accelerated, and their ears popped as the pressure dropped.
Beu said, "It was terrifying, honestly. There was a lot of noise. We thought the windows were going to break at any time. We had the inside windows kind of barricaded in with mattresses. We did whatever we could to kind of hunker down."
Authorities said the Florida Panhandle man was killed by a falling tree as Hurricane Michael tore through the state.
Gadsden County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Anglie Hightower said they received a call around 6 p.m. Wednesday, saying a tree had crashed through the roof of the man's Greensboro home and trapped him. Emergency crews were heading to the home, but downed power lines and blocked roads were making the trip difficult.
Officials hadn't immediately confirmed the man's name.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said search and rescue teams are heading into the state's hardest-hit areas to help survivors of Hurricane Michael.
Scott held a news conference Wednesday evening and urged people to stay off roads and leave them open to first responders as they begin the work of search and rescue -- and recovery.
He said flash flooding and tornadoes are still possible and said officials have heard reports of at least two tornadoes in Florida.
Scott said at least 192,000 homes and businesses are without power, but vowed "a massive wave of response" with thousands of utility personnel fanning out to restore power, along with medical teams, law enforcement personnel and the search and rescue squads.
Louisiana is sending dozens of emergency personnel, along with boats, ambulances and other equipment to Florida to help with the response to Hurricane Michael.
The state emergency preparedness office announced the assistance Wednesday, shortly before the storm roared ashore.
The emergency workers include ambulance teams coordinated by the Louisiana health department, search-and-rescue workers from the fire marshal's office, firefighters, medics and a helicopter team from the Louisiana National Guard. The assistance, for which Louisiana will be reimbursed, is coordinated through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact system.
Meanwhile, Entergy said its Louisiana subsidiaries are sending 170 employees and contractors to help Florida restore power lost due to Michael.