Michael downgraded to tropical storm, kills 2 in Florida

Michael downgraded to tropical storm, kills 2 in Florida

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.

Last month's Hurricane Florence had winds of as much as 137 miles per hour off the USA coast, but dropped in intensity prior to the storm's landfall in the Carolinas.

The category four storm - the second-highest on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane intensity scale - made landfall near Mexico Beach in Florida and was just shy of a rare category five when it came ashore.

Michael smashed into Florida's northwest coast near the small town of Mexico Beach on Wednesday with screeching 250km per hour winds, pushing a wall of seawater inland.

Early Thursday, the eye of Michael was about 25 miles east of Macon in central Georgia.

"My God, it's scary".

As winds subsided in Panama City, resident Reid Garrett said his concerns shifted to flooding outside his apartment complex, which surrounded by downed trees.

There was extensive destruction around Panama City.

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"As Hurricane Michael continues its destructive path through the Panhandle and leaves our state, we're turning 100 percent of our effort on search and rescue and recovery", Florida Gov. Rick Scott said in a press conference.

There have been an unknown number of water rescues Thursday morning in the mountain counties of Henderson and McDowell, according to Division of Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry.

Even before Michael made full landfall, it was whipping trees with its winds and flooding the town of Port St. Joe. A man in Greensboro, Florida, was killed when a tree fell on his house, a spokesperson for the Gadsden County sheriff said. It's very, very scary. "The emergency declaration is effective for seven days and makes all state resources available to local governments and entities within the impacted area of the hurricane", his office said. "We're working diligently to get to everyone as quickly as we can".

"Satellite images of Michael's evolution on Tuesday night were, in a word, jaw-dropping", wrote Bob Henson, a meteorologist with weather site Weather Underground.

Florida officials said Michael, packing winds of 155 miles per hour (250 kilometers per hour), was the most powerful storm to hit the state's northern Panhandle area in more than a century.

More than 900,000 homes and businesses are still without power in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas.

Helen Neal, 88, and her husband, J.W. Neal, 87, preferred to take their chances in a hotel rather than stay in their two-story Panama City Beach beachfront house about a mile away.

"We had roughly 4,000 people spend the night in a Red Cross or partner shelters - we expect that number could rise but now we're just urging people to listen to the local officials - heed those warnings because this is a very, very unsafe storm".