When the steep-walled eye of Hurricane Michael passed over Stefan Melendez Wednesday afternoon, he stepped into the temporarily tranquil Florida environment and saw blue skies above.
Though the storm has weakened, it is continuing on a risky path across the southeast states.
Josh Morgerman, a well-known storm chaser, tweeted, "It's hard to convey in words the scale of the catastrophe in Panama City".
More than 900,000 homes and businesses in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas were without power.
As of Thursday, the death toll was two but authorities feared it could rise in the coming days.
Florida officials also said they were moving patients from damaged health care facilities.
Hurricane Michael brings widespread damage and destruction to the Florida Panhandle; Mike Tobin reports.
The father of the 11-year-old girl tragically killed during Hurricane Michael has described learning of his daughter's death over the phone as "hell".
"This is what we expect with storm surge and high wind events", said Craig Fugate, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a former emergency management chief for the state of Florida.
"We had houses that were on one side of the street and now they're on the other", said Mayor Bo Patterson, who watched trees fly by his window as he rode out the storm in his home seven blocks from the beach. The storm is expected to hit the Carolinas on Thursday, which are still recovering from Last month's Hurricane Florence.
At 11 a.m., the center of the storm was 35 miles of Charlotte, North Carolina.
Uprooted trees, downed power poles and limited communications have greatly hindered first responders and families trying to reach residents in need.
Roy Radney, 37, was more than an hour away when he got the call from his brother that his daughter Sarah had been struck in the head by a mobile carport leg that blew through the roof of his parents' southwest Georgia home Wednesday.
Gov. Roy Cooper in a morning briefing with reporters emphasized that the former hurricane remains a risky storm, even though most of its destructive power has been spent in Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
A Panhandle man was killed by a tree that toppled on a home, Gadsden County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Anglie Hightower said.
"I told my wife, Judy, 'Come on out, you want to see what a tornado looks like?'"
"My home was built in 1962 is the only one with a solid roof left", Golding said. More than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast were ordered or urged to clear out as Michael closed in.
Home after home was razed from its foundations in the town of around 1,000 people.
"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 Michael is racing across the Carolinas.
Multiple buildings in Panama City were demolished or left without roofs while deserted streets were littered with debris, fallen tree trunks and dangling wires. Storm surge is worse now than it was 100 years ago, thanks to the rise in sea levels.