Man and girl killed as record-breaking Hurricane Michael brings devastation

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The third-most powerful hurricane to hit the USA mainland in recorded history left a wide path of destruction across Florida and Georgia, destroying homes and shopping centres and felling trees that killed at least two people.

Images of the aftermath of the storm are even more spine-chilling. Charlotte, North Carolina's largest city, was expecting as much as six inches of rain and wind gusts exceeding 30 miles per hour.

"People have no idea how hard Hurricane Michael has hit the great state of Georgia", Trump tweeted. It was downgraded to a tropical storm at midnight on Wednesday.

The storm was officially classified as a Category 4 - on the verge of Category 5 - but weakened as it continued its rapid advance up towards Georgia and the Carolinas, where cities still reeling from Hurricane Florence prepared for another onslaught of rain and wind. Homes were swallowed in storm surge. The Atlantic writes that the storm's freakishly low pressure and sustained but brutal winds, which peaked at 155 miles per hour, flattened neighborhoods, snapped trees, and left hundreds without power.

From the moment it made landfall, Michael became one of the four strongest hurricanes in history, and its winds were only outmatched by the three Category 5 storms to ever strike the US mainland.

By 5 a.m., Michael's eye was about 45 miles (72 kilometres) west of Augusta, Georgia, packing top winds of 50 mph (80 kph) and moving at 21 mph (33 kph) into SC, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said. Up to a foot (30 cm) of rain was forecast in Florida.

Video shot by CNN from a helicopter showed homes closest to the water in Mexico Beach had lost all but their foundations.

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Long said the storm posed a direct threat to people who ignored warnings and evacuation orders on the coastlines, particularly given the threat of storm surge capable of tearing apart and flattening buildings. By nightfall, the city was under curfew, darkened without power, its streets littered with downed power lines, fallen trees and debris. Wind damage was also evident.

But the full extent of the damage and other casualties was uncertain: Residents and emergency workers spent most of the day hunkered down, and emerged only towards nightfall to begin assessing the storm's toll.

Brock Long, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), warned that he expected the number of deaths to rise.

Six people died in Honduras, four in Nicaragua and three in El Salvador.

State officials said 285 people in Mexico Beach had defied a mandatory evacuation order ahead of the storm.

Mishelle McPherson and her ex-husband searched for a friend's elderly mother who thought she would be OK in her small cinderblock house just 150 yards (meters) from the Gulf. But the fate of many residents was unknown.

Michael sprang quickly from a weekend tropical depression, going from a Category 2 on Tuesday to a Category 4 by the time it came ashore.

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In Gadsden County, Florida, the sheriff's office said Thursday they had four "storm-related fatalities following Hurricane Michael", although they had only confirmed the details of one death: a man killed when a tree crashed through the roof of his home.

Social media websites were filled with messages from people trying to reach missing family members in Florida's Bay and Gulf Counties.

President Donald Trump on Thursday issued a major disaster declaration in the historic storm's wake.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who was going out with the National Guard Friday to survey the damage from the air and on the ground, called it "unimaginable destruction".

As of noon ET Friday, the storm had left almost 439,000 accounts without power outages in North Carolina, the state's Emergency Management Agency said.

In North Carolina, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the school system in Union County remained closed Friday after the storm knocked out power in those communities, according to the Charlotte Observer. The COTP for Hampton Roads set Port Condition X-ray at 4 p.m., for the Port of Virginia. Vessels desiring to remain in port must immediately contact the COTP to receive permission and are required to submit a safe mooring plan in writing.

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