First Death Reported as Hurricane Michael Devastates Florida Panhandle

'One Scary-Looking Storm': Watch Michael Arrive in Video from Space Station

Hurricane Michael, now officially the third-most powerful storm in USA history, ripped tree roots out from the ground and tore off roofs as it came ashore. And on Wednesday afternoon, it slammed into the Florida coast as a major Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 155 miles per hour ― just 2 miles per hour shy of Category 5 strength.

It is expected to move quickly up the US East Coast. Thousands hunkered down in shelters overnight after fleeing their homes to escape the fast-approaching storm. Smith, the sheriff of Franklin County, a coastal patch south of Tallahassee, told CNN that the county was almost isolated after most of the main roads were rendered impassable from flooding and downed trees.

"The wind that came through here was surreal".

Megan Williams, left, and roommate Kaylee O'Brian take belongings from their destroyed home after several trees fell on the house during Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida. "It's unlivable. It's heartbreaking". Fueled in part by above-average water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, the storm rapidly intensified at the start of this week.

Some additional strengthening is possible before landfall, which is expected Wednesday afternoon, before weakening as it crosses across the southeastern U.S. Maximum sustained winds have increased to 145 miles per hour.

The governors of North and SC urged residents to brace for more heavy rain and storm-force winds as Michael ploughs northward up the Atlantic seaboard. The Carolinas are still recovering from Hurricane Florence less than a month ago.

- Major pressure: 919 millibars minimum pressure in the hurricane's eye, the third most intense hurricane landfall in the U.S.in recorded history. Up to 30cm of rain was forecast in Florida. Josh Benson, a news anchor at WFLA, a Tampa Bay news station, shared a video taken by Tessa Talarico in Mexico Beach that showed the extreme flooding.

The National Weather Service office in Tallahassee issued a dramatic appeal for people to comply with evacuation orders.

A vehicle is seen caught in floodwaters in Panama City, Fla.

"I'm anxious about my daughter and grandbaby".

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It is believed Michael, a Category 3 storm, is poised to push ashore a "life-threatening" surge of water that will inundate those coastal areas. Wind damage was also evident.

"There are so many downed power lines and trees that it's nearly impossible to get through the city", Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson said.

Residents of the neighboring state of Georgia should also expect to be heavily impacted by the storm, the FEMA head said.

You can track the hurricane's progress using Google's Crisis Map tool or check for live updates from this National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration camera in space.

Its collision with the Florida coast so far has been stunning and violent.

"I'm praying to God people will be safe". It's very, very scary.

He was one of about 2,500 of the town's 3,500 residents who ended up staying put, many of them caught off guard by the storm's rapid escalation as it approached. "Things happen to even the most experienced chasers", said Rachael Adair. They were in 1969 and 1935.

Scott spoke Wednesday morning with Trump, who signed a pre-landfall emergency declaration Tuesday ensuring that federal resources would be available before and after the storm in the 35 counties where the governor declared a state of emergency.

Rick Scott, the Florida governor, said on Twitter: "The time to evacuate has come and gone". The lead-gray water was so high that roofs were about all that could be seen of many homes.

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