The tropical storm is expected to swell into a Category 1 hurricane as soon as Monday night as it rolls into the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, with winds of 70 miles per hour, forecasters said. Those winds were tearing some buildings apart in Panama City Beach. "It was so scary you'd poo yourself", said retiree Tom Garcia, 60, who was trapped inside his Mexico Beach home as water poured in to waist height.
The beach town looked like it had been carpet bombed, with little left in the first blocks from the beach. Aluminum siding was shredded and homes were split by fallen trees.
- Damage estimates: Boston-based Karen Clark & Company, an insurance company that produces models for catastrophes, is estimating Hurricane Michael caused about $8 billion in insured losses.
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.
At least three deaths were blamed on Michael, the most powerful hurricane to hit the continental U.S. in over 50 years, and it wasn't done yet: Though reduced to a tropical storm, it brought flash flooding to North Carolina and Virginia, soaking areas still recovering from Hurricane Florence.
Numerous injured in Florida were taken to hard-hit Panama City, 20 miles (32 km) northwest of Mexico Beach. As a result, the northeastern Gulf Coast is undergoing mandatory evacuations - that includes the Florida Panhandle (stretching into Big Bend) as well as parts of southeast Alabama and southern Georgia.
The storm peeled back part of the gym roof and tore off a wall at Jinks Middle School in Panama City.
"I have had employees going to the communities where our kids live, going door to door and checking", Principal Britt Smith said by phone. "So far, everybody seems to be very safe". The storm is now a Category 4, which The Weather Channel warns will cause a "catastrophic storm surge".
The storm then looks destined to move through the southeast US on Thursday as a tropical storm, bringing heavy rains to Georgia and the Carolinas, before moving back out to the Atlantic on Friday.
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.
"If you decide to stay in your home and a tree falls on your house or the storm surge catches you and you're now calling for help, there's no one that can respond to help you, " Mr Morgan said at a news conference. Patterson estimated 1,000 homes were completely or partially destroyed in his town of 3,500.
While interests across the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend areas are urged to get out of coastal areas in Hurricane Michael's warning strike zone as the storm of a lifetime bears down for a Category 4 strike Wednesday, another risky situation is developing inland across Georgia, with the storm poised to inflict rare devastation there, as well.
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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.