The National Weather Service is now warning that Michael is a "potentially catastrophic" weather event, which could result in "the strongest hurricane to landfall" upon Florida's Panhandle in over a decade. Some residents with destroyed or damaged homes counted themselves lucky to have survived.
Entire blocks of homes near the beach were obliterated, leaving concrete slabs in the sand.
State officials said 285 people in Mexico Beach had defied a mandatory evacuation order ahead of the storm.
- The human cost: Falling trees have killed a man in Gadsden County, Florida; a man in Iredell County, North Carolina; and an 11-year-old girl in Seminole County, Georgia, was killed when a carport blew through the roof of her home.
Rescuers will pick through the rubble of ravaged beach communities searching for survivors on Friday after Michael, one of the most powerful hurricanes in USA history, slammed into the Florida Panhandle, killing at least seven people.
Florida Governor Rick Scott, who has suspended his Senate campaign due to the impending storm, warns that this hurricane is "going to be historic" and cause more destruction than the state's panhandle has seen in decades. The area is known for its small coastal towns and wildlife reserves.
Numerous injured in Florida were taken to hard-hit Panama City, 20 miles (32 km) northwest of Mexico Beach. Michael left a trail of utility wires on roads, flattened tall pine trees and knocked a steeple from a church. Those winds were tearing some buildings apart in Panama City Beach.
"The roof fell in but we lived through it", he said.
After hitting Florida, Michael will move north-eastward across the southeastern part of the country Wednesday night and Thursday, according to the NHC. The hurricane damaged hospitals and nursing homes in Panama City, and officials worked to evacuate hundreds of patients.
At the city's Jinks Middle School, the storm peeled back part of the gym roof and tore off a wall. With just a month to go before Election Day, voters were also given one more day to register to vote, once offices reopen after the storm.
Fast-moving Michael, a Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale when it came ashore, was about 20 miles (35 km) northwest of Raleigh, North Carolina, at 5 pm EDT (1900 GMT) and set to speed up as it headed for the Atlantic coast, the NHC said.
Michael, the third most powerful hurricane ever to hit the US mainland, weakened overnight to a tropical storm but marched northeast, toppling trees with 50 miles per hour (80 kph) winds and bringing "life threatening" flash flooding to Georgia and Virginia, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported. He said people will "not be dragged out of their homes, " but anyone who stays behind will be on their own once the storm hits.
An estimated 6,000 people evacuated to emergency shelters, mostly in Florida, and that number was expected to swell to 20,000 across five states by week's end, said Brad Kieserman of the American Red Cross.
Michael pummelled communities across the Panhandle and turned streets into roof-high waterways. By 8 a.m. Tuesday, top winds had reached 100 miles per hour (155 kph), and it was forecast to strengthen more, with winds topping 111 miles per hour (179 kph), capable of causing devastating damage. As flooding gets worse and worse, more dots will turn blue.
Brad Rippey, a meteorologist for the U.S. Agriculture Department, said Michael severely damaged cotton, timber, pecans and peanuts, causing estimated liabilities as high as $1.9 billion and affecting up to 3.7 million crop acres (1.5 million hectares).
Michael also disrupted energy operations in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico as it approached land, cutting crude oil production by more than 40 percent and natural gas output by almost a third as offshore platforms were evacuated.
"Dangerous hurricane- force winds will also extend well inland across portions of the Florida Panhandle, southern Georgia, and southeast Alabama as Michael moves inland", the National Hurricane Center reported Wednesday in its 7 a.m. update.