An Associated Press team drove for miles and encountered extensive destruction around Panama City.
Michael is shaking up the upcoming election in the battleground state of Florida. "We had the inside windows kind of barricaded in with mattresses", Beu said.
Emergency officials in SC are reporting no injuries or deaths so far as Tropical Storm Michael moves across the state.
"There's nothing left here anymore", he said of the town. Becker said about 55 people were in the shelters early Thursday.
Some other highways are still closed because of flooding and damage from Hurricane Florence last month.
Thousands of people hunkered down in shelters overnight after fleeing their homes ahead of the storm.
The extent of the damage was becoming clear on Thursday as AFP reporters and photographers toured affected areas and United States television networks flew helicopters along the coast. Among those brought to safety were nine people rescued by helicopter from a bathroom of their Panama City home after their roof collapsed.
Both NOAA and Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft have flown through the hurricane's four quadrants - and the NHC says, "The planes actually passed through the eye around the same time [Tuesday morning], and reported that they could see one another".
For the first time, they also plan to use remote sensing and geotag photo technology to assess damage and update residents in real time, said Richard Butgereit, CIO for the Florida Division of Emergency Management. We will continue to monitor Hurricane Michael's path and GEMA/HS is leading our preparedness efforts.
- The human cost: A man in Gadsden County, Florida, killed by a falling tree, and an 11-year-old girl in Seminole County, Georgia, killed when a carport blew through the roof of her home. The agency said the storm's steady intensification over the past two days despite shifting westerly winds defies traditional logic. One of the carport's legs punctured the roof and hit her in the head.
Michael is now centered over SC and is still a tropical storm after a long land journey over the southeastern United States.
Hurricane Michael has grown into a Category 4 hurricane, with sustained winds reaching 130 miles per hour, as it barrels toward northwestern Florida, making it a much stronger storm than Hurricane Florence was when it made landfall as a Category 1 storm drenching the Carolinas last month, according to the National Hurricane Center.
And at that point, forecasters expect Michael to strengthen again over open water.
The hurricane center's Graham said Michael represented a "textbook case" of a hurricane system growing stronger as it drew near shore, in contrast to Hurricane Florence, which struck North Carolina last month after weakening in a slow, halting approach.
A year ago saw a string of catastrophic storms batter the western Atlantic - including Irma, Maria and Harvey, which caused a record-equaling $125 billion in damage when it flooded the Houston metropolitan area.
A reporter and photojournalist from the Tampa Bay Times ventured there in the dark early Thursday, finding the town of about 1,000 nearly impassable. Roofs and awnings are peeled from buildings, pieces of homes are scattered amid snapped trees and downed power lines, chunks of beaches are washed away.
A landscape that once drew vacationers to secluded beaches was littered with refrigerators, toilets and staircases no longer connected to houses. He rode out the storm because he didn't think it was going to be so bad. One couple was looking for their mother's portable oxygen machine.
The storm forced the closure of Interstate 10 west of Tallahassee, requiring some rescue crews to take alternate routes west from staging areas.
In an email sent early Thursday, spokesman Eddie Elmore said the road was closed "due to extremely hazardous conditions".
Hurricane Michael - a monster storm that literally came out of nowhere - is now a category three hurricane threatening to do massive damage to the American mainland.
Hurricane Michael's battering waves swamped streets and docks and shrieking winds splintered trees and rooftops.
"Impacts from Hurricane Michael along the Florida Panhandle will include a risky storm surge, flooding rainfall and damaging winds".
Michael ripped apart beach homes and boats, she said.
As it came ashore, Michael was just shy of a Category 5 - defined as a storm packing wind speeds of 157 miles per hour or above. Meanwhile, tropical storm-force winds extend outward from the center of the storm for 175 miles.