Historic Hurricane Michael hits Florida — WHAT'S HAPPENING

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Broadcast journalists, storm chasers and residents hunkering down captured dramatic video as Michael blew ashore near Mexico Beach, a tourist town about midway along the Panhandle.

The US National Hurricane Centre warned the effects from Michael's storm surge (or tsunami-like rise in water at the coast), destructive winds, and flooding rain would be "potentially catastrophic".

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.

There has been only one storm with higher sustained wind speeds this far north in the Gulf of Mexico: Hurricane Camille in 1969.

"My God, it's scary. I've never seen anything like this". That's about 20 miles southeast of Panama City, where dozens of utility poles were snapped and parking lots glistened with broken glass.

By late Wednesday, the storm had moved toward Georgia.

An estimated 6,000 evacuees took cover in emergency shelters, majority in Florida, and that number was expected to swell to 20,000 across five states by week's end, said Brad Kieserman of the American Red Cross.

A marina warehouse is damaged at the Port St. Joe Marina. According to local reports, police received a call around 6 p.m. about a man trapped by a fallen tree. It's very, very scary. Then by early afternoon, the remnants of Michael will enter the area providing additional moderate to heavy rain.

"A storm like this could be a once-in-a-lifetime event", said Brett Rathbun, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc.in State College, Pennsylvania.

"This happened so quickly, we weren't exactly prepared", he said. A metal carport was picked up by the wind and crashed through the roof of a structure, hitting the girl's head, said Travis Brooks, the county's emergency management director.

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Wiranto, who uses one name, said heavy equipment cannot operate in such areas because they could potentially sink in the soft mud. Figures for more remote areas, some still cut off by destroyed roads and landslides, are only trickling in, if at all.

Because Michael had not been expected to intensify as it did, thousands of coastal residents chose to ride it out at home, said Air Force Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command.

The storm knocked the broadcast of Panama City-based WMBB off the air after the television station lost power, one of more than 263,000 customers experiencing blackouts in Florida. He was briefed by FEMA's Long in the Oval Office on preparations.

More than 900,000 homes and businesses in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas were without power.

Hurricane Michael reduced its strength to a Tropical Storm last night at midnight, after making a bold entrance at almost a Category 5 yesterday.

As the storm moved northward, it tore through Panama City.

"The devastation is just frightful", Parker said of Port St. Joe, where he moved two years ago from IL. "We're kind of getting crushed", Franklin County Sheriff A.J. "God willing we'll still have some place".

Vast search and rescue efforts are underway as the Panhandle appears to be nearly completely demolished.

By 8am EDT (1200 GMT) on Thursday it had been downgraded to a tropical storm with 50mph (85kph) winds as it pushed through Georgia into the Carolinas, the National Hurricane Center said. Up to a foot (30 cm) of rainfall was forecast for some areas.

We've reached out to Melendez, who appears to have driven out to the Florida Panhandle to chase the storm, and will update this story upon hearing back.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency on Tuesday for 92 counties in his state, and a state of emergency also was announced in North Carolina.

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