An estimated 120,000 people along the Florida Panhandle were ordered to clear out on Tuesday as Hurricane Michael rapidly picked up steam in the Gulf of Mexico and closed in with winds of 110 miles per hour and a potential storm surge of 12 feet.
Mandatory evacuations are in effect along much of Florida's northern Gulf Coast, stretching from the Panhandle into the area known as the Big Bend. The storm was moving northeast at 20 mph with 60 mph maximum sustained winds, about 15 mph less than the minimum speed to be considered a hurricane.
As predicted, the storm's intensity diminished steadily as it pushed inland and curled northeasterly into Georgia after dark.
Hurricane Michael weakened to near tropical storm strength Wednesday night as it moved across southwestern Georgia, the National Hurricane Center said.
Top winds: 155 miles per hour (250 kph), strong enough to completely destroy homes and cause weekslong power outages.
Those winds were tearing some buildings apart in Panama City Beach.
"If you and your family made it through the storm safely, the worst thing you could do now is act foolishly", he said.
"My God, it's scary".
Bill Manning, a 63-year-old grocery clerk, fled his camper van in Panama City for safer quarters in a hotel only to see the electricity there go out.
At nightfall, the city was plunged into darkness, its flooded streets mostly silent and devoid of people or traffic.
The Pentagon positioned more than 2,200 active-duty military personnel, along with helicopters, high-water vehicles and swift-water boats.
Manatee County is now under storm surge and tropical storm watches. Wind damage was also evident.
"If you decide to stay in your home and a tree falls on your house or the storm surge catches you and you're now calling for help, there's no one that can respond to help you", Morgan said at a news conference. The National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Leslie and Tropical Storm Nadine are no threat to land over the open Atlantic Ocean, but Tropical Storm Sergio is expected to hit Mexico's Baja California Peninsula later this week and threaten the southern U.S. Plains and the Ozarks by the weekend.
Bo Patterson, the mayor of Port St. Joe, just south of Mexico Beach, rode out the storm in his house seven blocks from the beach.
Authorities said a man killed by a tree falling on a Panhandle home. "It's very, very scary".
"We've been through this before", she said.
"This situation has NEVER happened before", it said on Twitter.
FEMA head Brock Long acknowledged that early evacuation efforts in the area were slow, in comparison to how quickly the hurricane intensified. Most of the rain was blamed on a low-pressure system off the Pacific coast, but Hurricane Michael in the Caribbean could have also contributed.
Michael also could dump up to 30 centimetres of rain over some Panhandle communities before it sweeps over Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia on Wednesday and Thursday (Thursday and Friday NZT).
With the storm next entering the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico, which has warm water and favorable atmospheric conditions, "there is a real possibility that Michael will strengthen to a major hurricane before landfall", Robbie Berg, a hurricane specialist at the Miami-based storm forecasting hub, wrote in an advisory.
More than 380,000 homes and businesses in Florida were without power at the height of the storm. Forecasters said tornadoes could be spun off by the storm, and 3 to 6 inches of rain could cause flash floods as it barrels over a corner of the country still recovering from Hurricane Florence.