'Apocalyptic:' One Florida town demolished by Michael

Death Toll Rises As Michael Moves Along US Coast

Officials said more than 400,000 homes and businesses were without electricity in Florida and Governor Scott said almost 20,000 utility workers had been deployed to restore power.

Power lines were knocked down and heavy rains and fierce winds blanketed the area.

While search-and-rescue teams were having difficulty reaching some areas on Thursday, the extent of the damage is slowly becoming clear with the before and after images showing the severe destruction.

A day after making landfall near Mexico Beach in Florida as a Category 4 monster packing 155 miles per hour winds, Tropical Storm Michael continued to weaken but was still threatening the Southeast with heavy rains, heavy winds and possible spinoff tornadoes.

One man died when a tree fell into his home on the Florida Panhandle, and an 11-year-old girl was killed after a tree fell onto her home in Georgia.

Florida Governor Rick Scott told the Weather Channel the damage from Panama City down to Mexico Beach was "way worse than anybody ever anticipated". "This hurricane was an absolute monster".

Tamiya Waldon looks out at the damage to her neighbourhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla., on Wednesday.

As of 2 p.m. EDT, Michael was centered about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Greensboro, North Carolina, with winds of 50 mph (85 kph).

The number of people in emergency shelters was expected to swell to 20,000 across five states by Friday, said Brad Kieserman of the American Red Cross.

More than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast were ordered or urged to clear out as Michael closed in.

Florida governor Rick Scott had warned of "unimaginable devastation" from the approaching menace, and it looked like he was proved right on Thursday morning as the first rescue and fix crews arrived to assess the damage.

The Coast Guard said it rescued at least 27 people before and after the hurricane came ashore, mostly from homes along the Florida coastline, and searched for more victims.

Florida's glittering Emerald Coast will be missing much of its lustre for the next few months in the wake of devastating Hurricane Michael, which scored a massive direct hit on the north-west part of the Sunshine State on Wednesday.

Trees were stripped to stalks, roofs were shredded, trucks toppled and boats pushed into buildings.

Aerial footage from a helicopter showed widespread devastation across the town of about 1,000 people.

One of the hardest-hit spots was Mexico Beach where entire blocks of homes near the beach were washed away, leaving nothing but concrete slabs in the sand.

Rows and rows of other homes were smashed to pieces or crunched to the ground.

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