Yahoo! News Photo Staff

Devastated by Hurricane Michael, Florida starts recovery

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Florida’s Panhandle took stock on Thursday of the hammering destruction wrought by Hurricane Michael, with homes obliterated or reduced to rubble and power lines and trees ripped up by the third most powerful storm ever to strike the U.S. mainland.

Michael, now weakened to a tropical storm as it doused Georgia and the Carolinas with drenching rain, crashed ashore on Wednesday near the small town of Mexico Beach carrying winds of up to 155 miles per hour (250 kilometers per hour) and causing deep seawater flooding. The storm killed two people.

In Mexico Beach, CNN aerial footage showed homes closest to the beach had lost all but their foundations. A few blocks inland, about half the homes were reduced to piles of wood and siding and those still standing suffered heavy damage.

Brock Long, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, called the town, which has a population of about 1,200, “ground zero” for the hurricane damage.

One objective was to help people who could be trapped in various areas along the coast, he told a news conference. This part of northwest Florida is known for its small beach towns and wildlife reserves.

In Panama City, 20 miles (32 km) northwest of Mexico Beach, buildings were crushed and boats were scattered around. Michael left a trail of utility wires on roads, flattened tall pine trees and knocked a steeple from a church.

Al Hancock, 45, who works on a tour boat, survived in Panama City with his wife and dog.

“The roof fell in but we lived through it,” he said.

Florida Governor Rick Scott told the Weather Channel the damage from Panama City down to Mexico Beach was “way worse than anybody ever anticipated.”

John Billiot, president of America’s Cajun Navy, a group of volunteers who bring boats and vehicles to help during disasters, said Michael was unprecedented.

“We’ve been doing this since 2005,” he told CNN while working on rescues around Panama City. “I have never been scared of a storm a day in my life. This one right here put the fear of God into me. It gives me goosebumps talking about it.” (Reuters)

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Rescue personnel search amidst debris in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla., Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (Photo: Gerald Herbert/AP)


Gavin Conklin, 17, gathers water bottles from a neighbor’s refrigerator after Hurricane Michael destroyed the home on Oct. 11, 2018 in Panama City, Fla. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)


An American flag flies amongst rubble left in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla., Oct. 11, 2018. (Photo: Jonathan Bachman/REUTERS)


People cut away a tree that’ll on a vehicle in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla., Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (Photo: Gerald Herbert/AP)


Amanda Logsdon begins the process of trying to clean up her home after the roof was blown off by the passing winds of hurricane Michael on Oct. 11, 2018 in Panama City, Fla. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)


A vintage Shelby Cobra vehicle sits surrounded by debris at a damaged warehouse after Hurricane Michael hit in Panama City, Fla., on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (Photo: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)


A Waffle House damaged by Hurricane Michael is seen in Callaway, Fla., Oct. 11, 2018. (Photo: Jonathan Bachman/REUTERS)


Tree limbs sit on top of an American Red Cross disaster relief truck after Hurricane Michael hit in Panama City, Fla., on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (Photo: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)


Firefighter Austin Schlarb performs a door to door search in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla., Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (Photo: Gerald Herbert/AP)


A man stands on what is left of a balcony after Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla., Oct. 11, 2018. (Photo: Jonathan Bachman/REUTERS)


The restroom in the home of Cindy and James Murphy, in Port St. Joe, Fla., is plastered with the remnants of a violent tidal surge on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, which damaged most of the homes on the town’s coast and decimated a majority of coastal structures in adjacent Mexico Beach after Hurricane Michael made landfall on Wednesday in the Florida Panhandle. (Photo: Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times via AP)


Debris from Hurricane Michael fills a lot Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, in Mexico Beach, Fla. (Photo: Chris O’Meara/AP)


Anthony Scott Rector, who stayed in this room during Hurricane Michael, looks through damaged belongings in Parker, Fla., Oct. 11, 2018. (Photo: Jonathan Bachman/REUTERS)


In this image made from video and provided by SevereStudios.com, damage from Hurricane Michael is seen in Mexico Beach, Fla. on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. Search-and-rescue teams fanned out across the Florida Panhandle to reach trapped people in Michael’s wake Thursday as daylight yielded scenes of rows upon rows of houses smashed to pieces by the third-most powerful hurricane on record to hit the continental U.S. (Photo: SevereStudios.com via AP)


Haley Nelson inspects damages to her family properties in the Panama City, Fla., spring field area after Hurricane Michael made landfall in Florida’s Panhandle on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (Photo: Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP)


In this image made from video and provided by SevereStudios.com, damage from Hurricane Michael is seen in Mexico Beach, Fla. on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. Search-and-rescue teams fanned out across the Florida Panhandle to reach trapped people in Michael’s wake Thursday as daylight yielded scenes of rows upon rows of houses smashed to pieces by the third-most powerful hurricane on record to hit the continental U.S. (Photo: SevereStudios.com via AP)


A restaurant fixture known as “Big Gus” is seen damaged by Hurricane Michael in Panama City Beach, Fla., Oct. 10, 2018. (Photo: Jonathan Bachman/Reuters)


In this image made from video and provided by SevereStudios.com, damage from Hurricane Michael is seen in Mexico Beach, Fla. on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. Search-and-rescue teams fanned out across the Florida Panhandle to reach trapped people in Michael’s wake Thursday as daylight yielded scenes of rows upon rows of houses smashed to pieces by the third-most powerful hurricane on record to hit the continental U.S. (Photo: SevereStudios.com via AP)


A McDonald’s sign damaged by Hurricane Michael is pictured in Panama City Beach, Fla., Oct.10, 2018. (Photo: Jonathan Bachman/Reuters)


In this image made from video and provided by SevereStudios.com, damage from Hurricane Michael is seen in Mexico Beach, Fla. on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. Search-and-rescue teams fanned out across the Florida Panhandle to reach trapped people in Michael’s wake Thursday as daylight yielded scenes of rows upon rows of houses smashed to pieces by the third-most powerful hurricane on record to hit the continental U.S. (Photo: SevereStudios.com via AP)


A Booze Express is seen damaged after category 4 Hurricane Michael made land fall along the Florida panhandle, on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018 in Panama City Beach, Fla. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)


In this image made from video and provided by SevereStudios.com, damage from Hurricane Michael is seen in Mexico Beach, Fla. on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. Search-and-rescue teams fanned out across the Florida Panhandle to reach trapped people in Michael’s wake Thursday as daylight yielded scenes of rows upon rows of houses smashed to pieces by the third-most powerful hurricane on record to hit the continental U.S. (Photo: SevereStudios.com via AP)


Dorian Carter looks under furniture for a missing cat after several trees fell on their home during Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (Photo: Gerald Herbert/AP)


Carol Ralph walks through downed trees blocking her heavily damaged neighborhood just after Hurricane Michael passed through in Panama City, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (Photo: Gerald Herbert/AP)


A resident looks up as he walks through a damaged home after Hurricane Michael hit in Panama City, Fla., on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (Photo: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)


In this image made from video and provided by SevereStudios.com, damage from Hurricane Michael is seen in Mexico Beach, Fla. on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. Search-and-rescue teams fanned out across the Florida Panhandle to reach trapped people in Michael’s wake Thursday as daylight yielded scenes of rows upon rows of houses smashed to pieces by the third-most powerful hurricane on record to hit the continental U.S. (Photo: SevereStudios.com via AP)


John Gouge walks through flood waters as he goes to check on the post office Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, in St. Marks, Fla. (Photo: Chris O’Meara/AP)


Tamiya Waldon looks out at the damage to her neighborhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (Photo: Gerald Herbert/AP)


People look on at a damaged store after Hurricane Michael passed through on Oct. 10, 2018 in Panama City, Fla. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)


A warehouse of boats is seen damaged at Treasure Island Marina after category 4 Hurricane Michael made land fall along the Florida panhandle, on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018 in Panama City Beach, Fla. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)


A woman and her children wain near a destroyed gas station after Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla., on Oct. 10, 2018. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)


Damaged buildings and a flooded street are seen after hurricane Michael passed through the downtown area on Oct. 10, 2018 in Panama City, Fla. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)


A view of storm damage during Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla., on Oct. 10, 2018. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)


Phlomena Telker stands on what was her covered porch after hurricane Michael tore the roof of her home as it passed through the area on Oct. 10, 2018 in Panama City, Fla. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)


A Waffle House damaged by Hurricane Michael is pictured in Panama City Beach, Fla., Oct. 10, 2018. (Photo: Jonathan Bachman/Reuters)


Boats that were docked are seen in a pile of rubble after hurricane Michael passed through the downtown area on Oct. 10, 2018 in Panama City, Fla. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)


An American flag is torn in front of a school during Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla., on Oct. 10, 2018. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)


Residents embrace in front of an apartment building after Hurricane Michael hit in Panama City, Florida, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (Photo: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)


A view of storm damage during Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla., on Oct. 10, 2018. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)


A tree lays on a home and car after hurricane Michael passed through the area on Oct. 10, 2018 in Panama City, Fla. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)