The devastation inflicted by Hurricane Michael came into focus Thursday with rows upon rows of homes found smashed to pieces, and search-and-rescue crews struggled to reach the stricken areas in hopes of accounting for hundreds of people who defied evacuation orders, the AP reports. At least two deaths were blamed on Michael, the most powerful hurricane to hit the continental US in over 50 years, and it wasn't done yet: Though weakened into a tropical storm, it continued to bring heavy rain and blustery winds to the Southeast as it pushed inland, soaking areas still recovering from Hurricane Florence. Under a perfectly clear blue sky, Florida families emerged tentatively from darkened shelters and hotels to an unfamiliar and perilous landscape of shattered homes and shopping centers, beeping security alarms, wailing sirens, and hovering helicopters.
"This morning, Florida's Gulf Coast and Panhandle and the Big Bend are waking up to unimaginable destruction," Gov. Rick Scott said. "So many lives have been changed forever. So many families have lost everything. ... This hurricane was an absolute monster." The full extent of the damage was only slowly becoming clear, with some of the hardest-hit areas difficult to reach because of roads blocked by debris or water. An 80-mile stretch of Interstate 10, the main east-west route along the Panhandle, was closed. Some of the worst damage was in Mexico Beach, where Michael crashed ashore Wednesday as a Category 4 monster with 155mph winds and a storm surge of 9 feet. Entire blocks of homes near the beach were obliterated, reduced to nothing but concrete slabs in the sand. Rows and rows of other homes were turned into piles of splintered lumber or were crumpled and slumped at odd angles. Click for more on Michael. (Read more Hurricane Michael stories.)