Hurricane Michael crushes Georgia, heads toward Carolinas

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Hurricane Michael, the third most powerful storm ever to strike the US mainland, headed northeast on Thursday, weakened but still set to soak Georgia and the Carolinas after devastating the Florida Panhandle.

Mexico Beach, located on Florida's northwestern coast, "took the brunt" of Hurricane Michael and is "probably ground zero", FEMA administrator Brock Long said Thursday.

Michael had rapidly intensified as it churned north over the Gulf of Mexico in recent days, growing from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane in about 40 hours and catching many by surprise. "The storm has already begun to lash our battered state with strong winds and heavy rain".

Among those brought to safety were nine people rescued by helicopter from a bathroom of their Panama City home after their roof collapsed, Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronald Hodges said.

No power, no internet:More than 500,000 customers remain without electricity in Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

At least 3: The number of confirmed deaths as of Thursday.

In areas that have been declared safe, officials are warning residents to drive only in the daytime, when they can see downed power lines and other hazards.

Sally Crown rode out Michael on the Panhandle thinking at first that the worst damage was the many fallen trees in her yard before she emerged to check on the cafe she manages.

High winds led to the death of an 11-year-old girl in Seminole County, Georgia, EMA Director Travis Brooks told The Washington Post early Thursday morning.

The extent of the damage was becoming clear as reporters and photographers toured affected areas and USA television networks flew helicopters along the coast.

After carving an agonizing path of destruction across the Florida Panhandle, Georgia and southeastern Alabama for almost 10 hours, Hurricane Michael finally slowed to a tropical storm at midnight and continued to weaken early Thursday.

State officials issued disaster declarations in Alabama and Georgia and the storm is also expected to bring heavy rainfall to North and SC. When it landed, one of the legs tore through the roof, fatally striking the 11-year-old girl in the head.

The storm was about 30 miles west of Augusta, Georgia, with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph, as of the National Hurricane Center's 5 a.m. Wednesday advisory.

A Panhandle man was killed by a tree that toppled on a home, Gadsden County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Anglie Hightower said.

Some fear the toll can only rise as rescue teams get around storm debris blocking roads and reach isolated areas.

"I just need to know he's OK", McCall said.

The American Red Cross is providing food, water and shelter to more than 7,000 people.

"My home was built in 1962 is the only one with a solid roof left", Golding said.

Other parts of Georgia also were hit hard by the storm. I can't think of anything that is more related to hell than that, ' he said.

"Water will come miles in shore and could easily rise over the roofs of houses", he said.

At least 1,085,356 people in six states were without power according to local power and energy agencies.

Michael's strength may reflect the effect of climate change on storms.

The storm tore entire neighbourhoods apart, reducing homes and businesses to piles of wood and siding, damaging roads and leaving scenes of devastation that resembled the aftermath of a carpet-bombing operation.