Hurricane Michael Death Toll Rises To Six After Tearing Through Florida

Hurricane Michael's violence was visible in shattered Florida coastal towns, where rows of homes were ripped from foundations and roofs were peeled off schools by the near-record-force storm blamed for six deaths.

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.

Video shot by CNN from a helicopter showed homes closest to the water in Mexico 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 had suffered heavy damage.

Michael, the third most powerful hurricane ever to hit the US mainland, weakened overnight to a tropical storm and pushed northeast, bringing drenching rains to Georgia and the Carolinas, which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence last month.

Image: Getty Images.

Michael killed at least six people in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina from falling trees and other hurricane-related incidents, officials and local media said.

The injured in Florida were taken to hospitals in Tallahassee, with some hurt after the storm by breaking tree limbs and falls, said Allison Castillo, director of emergency services at the city's Capital Regional Medical Centre.

In Panama City, 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.

Nearly 950,000 homes and businesses were without power in Florida, Alabama, the Carolinas and Georgia on Thursday.

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

At Jinks Middle School in Panama City, the storm tore off part of the gym roof and one wall, leaving the wooden floor covered in water. A year ago the school welcomed students and families displaced by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

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Michael, a Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane intensity scale when it came ashore, was causing flash flooding on Thursday in parts of North Carolina and Virginia, where some areas could get as much as 23 cm of rain, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

The number of people in emergency shelters is expected to swell to 20,000 across five states by Friday.

Image: Getty Images.

Michael pummelled communities across the Panhandle and turned streets into roof-high waterways.

Brad Rippey, a meteorologist for the US Agriculture Department, said Michael had severely damaged cotton, timber, pecan and peanuts, causing estimated liabilities as high as $US1.9 billion and affecting up to 1.5 million hectares.

Michael also disrupted energy operations in the US Gulf of Mexico as it approached land, cutting crude oil production by more than 40 per cent and natural gas output by nearly one-third as offshore platforms were evacuated.

With a low barometric pressure recorded at 919 millibars, a measure of a hurricane's force, Michael was the third strongest storm on record to hit the continental United States, behind only Hurricane Camille on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1969 and the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 in the Florida Keys.