Search teams fan out to reach Hurricane Michael’s victims

The death toll from hurricane Michael, one of the most powerful storms to make landfall in the U.S. mainland, rose to six, with authorities warning that the toll could further increase as search and rescue efforts continue.

A man was killed when a tree toppled onto his house in Florida and a girl died when debris fell into a home in Georgia, officials said and local media reported.

A resident surveys the scattered belongings at a damaged home after Hurricane Michael hit in Panama City, Fla.

FEMA Administrator Brock Long said early Thursday that "search and rescue is where we are hyper-focused this morning" - particularly in Mexico Beach, Florida, which "was wiped out" by Hurricane Michael's storm surge, he said. The wind speed increased 45 miles per hour in just 24 hours, representing a leap from Category 1 to Category 4 - and the storm wasn't done intensifying.

"The wind that came through here was surreal". A falling tree killed a man after it crashed into his home in Greensboro, Florida, authorities said. "It's unlivable. It's heartbreaking".

Rapid intensification means that a storm has found itself in an ideal environment - one usually characterized by warm waters and little adverse wind shear.

Numerous injured in Florida were taken to hard-hit Panama City, 32 km northwest of Mexico Beach.

River and street flooding, fallen trees and the threat of tornadoes began spreading into central North Carolina on Thursday, prompting the state's governor to urge people to avoid travel until Tropical Storm Michael clears the region tonight or tomorrow. The Carolinas are still recovering from Hurricane Florence less than a month ago. Up to a foot (30 cm) of rainfall was forecast for some areas from Michael.

The small Gulf Coast community of Mexico Beach was known as a slice of Old Florida.

Numerous beach's residents followed evacuation orders.

In Panama City, plywood and metal flew off the front of a Holiday Inn Express. "As we saw with Hurricanes H-I-M in 2017, $100 billion in insured losses did not really rock the market long term". "My God, it's scary".

"The trees - the major tree damage across the Florida Panhandle will - I think, will be massive if this thing doesn't slow down", Porter pointed out.

The hurricane 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 one-third as offshore platforms were evacuated.

- Top winds: 155 miles per hour, strong enough to completely destroy homes and cause weekslong power outages.

Officials warned that, after what has been the worst storm in 50 years, many trees and power lines are on the road creating unsafe conditions, with power outages across the region expected to remain.

They are headed to Collier and Bay counties.

An estimated 375,000 people in more than 20 counties were ordered or advised to evacuate. An 80-mile stretch of Interstate 10, the main east-west route along the Panhandle, was closed because of debris. However, just 6,700 people have been housed in 54 shelters.

Despite the widespread destruction, LaFountain said he believes most people will rebuild. "This happened so quickly", he said.

Michael weakened to a tropical storm Thursday after wreaking havoc along Florida's Gulf Coast, flooding homes and streets, ripping away roofs and snapping trees and power lines as it roared ashore as a raging Category 4 hurricane.

Michael hit Florida with wind speeds of 155 miles per hour (250 kilometers per hour), placing it nearly into Category 5 scale, which starts at 157 mph.

  • Joe Gonzales