As one of the strongest hurricanes ever to make USA landfall, Hurricane Michael wrecked extensive damage, but the theme emerging Thursday was that a combination of deft forecasting, quick emergency response, and a fortuitous path prevented the disaster from being much worse. High winds, downed trees, streets inundated by rising waters and multiple rescues of motorists from waterlogged cars played out in spots around Virginia and neighbouring North Carolina.
The former Category 4 storm is now a post tropical cyclone in the Atlantic Ocean.
As Michael pushed northeast, emergency services carried out dozens of rescues of people caught in swiftly moving floodwaters in North Carolina on Thursday.
In his letter posted on the base's website, Laidlaw says crews need to clear trees from roads, fix power lines and "assess the structural integrity of our buildings" before anyone returns.
Parts of Virginia were struck with heavy rains and flash flooding, said Jeff Caldwell, a spokesman for the state Department of Emergency Management. Similar scenes played out in parts of Virginia as the storm raced seaward.
Nearly 1.1m homes and businesses were without power from Florida to Virginia early on Friday, according to utility companies.
United States army personnel used heavy equipment to push a path through debris in Mexico Beach to allow rescuers through to search for trapped residents, survivors or casualties, as Blackhawk helicopters circled overhead. Families living along the Panhandle are now faced with a struggle to survive in a perilous landscape of shattered homes and shopping centers, the storm debris spread far and wide.
The senator noted that getting power restored to the hardest-hit areas will take some time because there are wires down everywhere and water is in the streets.
Michael Williams, 70, waved to passing motorists while looking for food and water as downed trees prevented him from driving out of his damaged home with his family in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Springfield, Fla., today.
Mr Long said several hospitals in the Panhandle were hit by the hurricane and patients had to be evacuated.
The moment was captured on ABC News' live video, and it was also widely shared on social media, where many questioned the fate of the four-legged storm victims.
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An insurance company that produces models for catastrophes estimated the damage at $8 billion. Boston-based Karen Clark & Company released that estimate Thursday, which includes privately insured wind and storm surge damage to residential, commercial and industrial properties and vehicles. It doesn't include losses covered by the National Flood Insurance Program.
He was scheduled to visit both Mexico Beach and Marianna with Florida National Guard troops on Friday, in addition to getting an aerial view of the damage to Gulf and Jackson counties.
At least two people were killed as Hurricane Michael, one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the U.S., slammed into the state of Florida, unleashing a trail of destruction by flooding beach towns, peeling off roofs and snapping trees before advancing to the Carolinas.
Michael earlier reportedly killed at least 13 people as it passed through Central America: six in Honduras, four in Nicaragua and three in El Salvador.
Six Florida counties remain under curfews, as work crews try to push debris off of roads so utility and emergency crews can start to fix the damage and reach people who need help.
More than 375 000 people up and down the Gulf Coast were ordered or urged to clear out as Michael closed in. But it moved fast and intensified quickly, and emergency authorities lamented that many people ignored the warnings. Nine people had to be rescued by helicopter from a bathroom of a home in hard-hit Panama City after their roof collapsed, Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronald Hodges said.
Now they have the grim task of accounting for all who stayed behind.
Most of the full-time residents, LaFountain said, have some connection to the hospitality industry.
Mishelle McPherson and her ex-husband searched for the elderly mother of a friend.