Florida reported the first victim of the devastating hurricane

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The mammoth storm, which made landfall as a Category 4 storm on Wednesday, claimed lives in four states, but the Sunshine State suffered the worst damage by far.

Michael was later downgraded to Category 3 after 5 pm (local time) on Wednesday, which still means that it is still a major storm with wind speeds packing up to 129 miles per hour. The core of Michael will move across eastern Georgia into Central South Carolina on Thursday morning.

Rescue teams with sniffer dogs were searching for possible victims buried under the rubble in the debris-strewn community.

In Panama City, most homes were still standing, but no property was left undamaged.

Building codes on Florida's Panhandle, in the state's northwest, are less rigorous than in the state's south, where severe hurricanes hit more frequently.

Consider what storm chaser Josh Morgerman tweeted Wednesday night: "It's hard to convey in words the scale of the catastrophe in Panama City". What used to be a gorgeous beachfront city now looks like an apocalyptic mess.

Florida has had more hurricanes in October than in any other month.

The Gulf of Mexico gave Michael exactly what it needed to bulk up into a monster: The water was 4 to 5 degrees F (2.2 to 2.8 degrees C) warmer than normal, and high-atmosphere winds that can disrupt a hurricane were quiet. It comes less than a month after Hurricane Florence devastated the Carolinas, killing 48 people and destroying thousands of homes.

A man outside Tallahassee, Florida, was killed by a falling tree, and an 11-year-old girl in Georgia died when the winds picked up a carport and dropped it on her home.

In Port Condition Yankee, the tropical storm force winds are anticipated within 24 hours and the affected ports are closed to inbound vessel traffic greater than 500 gross tons.

However, the center said, winds have picked up at certain points along the Georgia and SC coast.

With a low barometric pressure recorded at 919 millibars, the measure of a hurricane's force, Michael ranked as the third strongest storm on record to hit the continental United States, behind only Hurricane Camille on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1969 and the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 in the Florida Keys.

"We haven't seen her since the tree hit the den".

In Seminole County, Georgia, a metal carport crashed through a roof, hitting a girl's head.

"Why people didn't evacuate is something we should be studying", said Craig Fugate, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a former Florida state emergency management chief. FEMA officials famously use the Waffle House Index as a way of measuring storm damage: Since the diner chain is ubiquitous in the southeast, and rarely shuts down in extreme weather, seeing the Waffle House closed down before a storm is a sign that things are about to get extremely bad.

Meanwhile, the Waffle House near Florida State University's campus in Tallahassee was open for business at 12:28 a.m., with lines stretching out the door.

Scientists have long warned that global warming will make storms more destructive, and some say the evidence for this may already be visible.

Television news footage showed homes submerged in floodwaters up to their roofs in Mexico Beach. Downed power lines lay almost everywhere.

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.

"We've been very cautious with sending our first responders out right now", she said.

An estimated 375,000 people live in areas under mandatory evacuation. But emergency authorities lamented that many people ignored the warnings.

A Panhandle man was killed by a tree that toppled on a home, Gadsden County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Anglie Hightower said.

"We're doing good", Bateman said, despite damage to the church's roof.

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