Rescuers searched for survivors on Friday after one of the most powerful hurricanes in U.S. history slammed into the Florida Panhandle and killed at least seven people.
Hurricane Michael struck Florida’s northwest coast near the small town of Mexico Beach on Wednesday afternoon with top sustained winds of 155 miles per hour (250 kph), pushing a wall of seawater inland and causing widespread flooding.
At least seven people were killed in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, according to state officials.
By early Friday morning, the fast-moving storm was about 65 miles (105 km) northeast of Norfolk, Virginia, with top sustained winds of 60 mph (95 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It was threatening to bring flash floods and wind damage to parts of North Carolina and the southern Mid-Atlantic still recovering from last month’s Hurricane Florence.
The storm, which came ashore as a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, tore entire neighborhoods apart, reducing homes and businesses to piles of wood and siding, damaging roads and leaving scenes of devastation that resembled the aftermath of a carpet-bombing operation.
U.S. 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. Rescuers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) used dogs, drones and GPS in the search.
“We prepare for the worst and hope for the best. This is obviously the worst,” said Stephanie Palmer, a FEMA firefighter and rescuer from Coral Springs, Florida.