"I've never been so scared in my life", said Dawn Vickers. Scientists say global warming is responsible for more intense and more frequent extreme weather, such as storms, droughts, floods and fires.
More than 30,000 people in the private industry were trying to get the power grid up and running, but infrastructure has taken a major hit, and it's unclear when power would be restored to certain hardest-hit areas. Unlike many storms, which form off the coast of Africa, Michael organized in the Caribbean, giving forecasters less time to track it before it made landfall. "The people of Florida rely on Governor Scott for accurate storm response and safety information - and a false ad suggesting Floridians should not listen to the Governor isn't just ill-timed, it's risky. That is just one more hazard that we didn't need", said Panama City resident Brooke Esposito.
Which areas are worst affected?
Michael, the third most powerful hurricane ever to hit the US mainland, weakened overnight to a tropical storm but marched northeast, toppling trees with 50 miles per hour (80 kph) winds and bringing "life threatening" flash flooding to Georgia and Virginia, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported.
Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday, flattening houses, damaging the power grid and disrupting communication in several coastal communities.
"This is not stuff that you just put back together overnight", Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said Thursday. "Be careful with all the chainsaws ... and don't touch downed power lines".
Apalachicola, with 2,300 residents, was also badly affected, the mayor reporting that downed cables were making it hard to get through the town.
Some fear the toll can only rise as rescue teams reach isolated areas and work through storm debris. But "we have to make sure things are safe".
Search teams - working by air, boat and on the ground - have entered Panama City, Mexico Beach, Alligator Point, Eastpoint, St. George Island and Apalachicola.
Although weaker as it pushed over the southeastern United States, the storm carried high winds and delivered drenching rains to Georgia, North and SC and Virginia.
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And then you hear faint bleeping sounds coming from all directions - a dissonant symphony of high-pitched notes that turn out to be myriad small alarms, still transmitting their warnings from the batteries which power them. The whole area. they're going to tear down these houses and rebuild it. The home was found smashed, with no sign of the woman. This was her dream retirement place she tells me - the last four years spent doing it up.
"I have had employees going to the communities where our kids live, going door to door and checking", Principal Britt Smith by phone.
A 38-year-old motorist also was killed by a massive tree in Statesville, NC, and 11-year-old Sarah Radney of Georgia was killed when a metal carport struck her in the head as she hunkered down in her Seminole County home.
In southwestern Virginia, Emily Waddell said the water level in a creek near her property in Simpsons already surpassed what it experienced during Florence.
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.
Florida officials said more than 400,000 homes and businesses were without electricity in Florida and Governor Scott said almost 20,000 utility workers had been deployed to restore power.
Around 6,000 are thought to have sought refuge in official shelters, mainly in Florida.
As of 5 a.m. ET Friday, the storm is moving northeast across the Atlantic Ocean and was about 185 miles east-northeast of Norfolk, Virginia.
The NHC warned that communities in north-west Florida and North Carolina faced the threat of life-threatening flooding as rising water moved inland from the coast.