Hurricane Michael devastates Florida with ferocity 'like nothing we've seen before'

Each line is a different forecast model projection for the track of Michael later this week

The most powerful hurricane on record to hit Florida's Panhandle has left widespread destruction and at least two people dead as it crossed Georgia toward the Carolinas.

In North Carolina's mountains, motorists had to be rescued from cars trapped by high water.

Forecasters said it could bring 3 to 6 inches (7 to 14 centimetres) of rain to Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia, triggering flash flooding in a corner of the country still recovering from Florence.

Hurricane Michael made landfall at Mexico Beach, Florida, as a high-end Category 4 storm on Wednesday, flattening entire neighborhoods along the Florida Panhandle. The storm has since been downgraded to a tropical storm.

All told, more than 900,000 homes and businesses in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas were without power. "This is one of the most powerful storms".

Images from there showed swathes of shattered debris where houses once stood and structures inundated up to their rooftops; the streets of Panama City, farther west, were blocked by downed tree limbs and impossible tangles of power lines.

Michael rapidly intensified as it churned north over the Gulf of Mexico and caught many by surprise.

MEXICO BEACH, FL - OCTOBER 09: Carol Cathey spray paints the words "Calm down Michael" on the plywood over her daughter's business in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Michael on October 9, 2018 in Mexico Beach, Florida.

After initially maintaining hurricane strength while barreling inland through Georgia, Michael had weakened to tropic storm status by Thursday morning while churning northeast over SC with maximum winds of 50 miles per hour.

Heavy rains are forecast for the Carolinas, which were drenched by Hurricane Florence last month.

At 2 p.m. Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center said Michael had top sustained winds of 110 miles per hour (175 kph).

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Richard Fausset, and Atlanta-based reporter for The New York Times, posted a photo of a group of people huddling in a storage closet at his hotel in Panama City. Wind damage was also evident. The effects of Michael completely devastated the area, leveling homes, downing trees, and leaving hundreds of people without power.

325,000: Estimated number of people in the storm's path who were told to evacuate by local authorities.

Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith near the vulnerable coast said his deputies had gone door to door in some places urging people to evacuate.

Asked if there would be more evacuation orders, he said officials were monitoring the situation but that people in potentially affected areas should not take any chances against such a large storm surge.

Disaster agencies in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua reported 13 deaths as roofs collapsed and residents were carried away by swollen rivers.

EMILY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Hurricane Michael will likely make landfall along the Gulf Coast today as a Category 3 storm, according to the National Hurricane Center.

With a low barometric pressure recorded at 919 millibars, the measure of a hurricane's force, Michael ranked as the third strongest storm on record to make landfall in the continental United States.

President Donald Trump announced plans to visit Florida and hard-hit Georgia early next but didn't say what day he would arrive.

Gov. Rick Scott said search and rescue efforts would be "aggressive".

The Pentagon positioned more than 2,200 active-duty military personnel, along with helicopters, high-water vehicles and swift-water boats. The U.S. Coast Guard ran 10 rescue missions into the region Wednesday night.

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