Florida suffered "unimaginable destruction" as it was hit by one of the strongest hurricanes ever to have made landfall in the US, the state’s governor said.
Hurricane Michael flattened rows of houses, ripped apart shopping centres and petrol stations, hurled boats into buildings, and toppled trees and trucks, as it smashed into the Florida Panhandle, a 200-mile stretch in the north-west of the state.
At least seven people were killed by the storm in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina including a man killed by a fallen tree in Tallahassee. In neighbouring Georgia an 11-year-old girl, named as Sarah Radney, died when the wind picked up a carport and dropped it on her home.
The hurricane came ashore on Wednesday with winds of 155mph, at Mexico Beach, a small town with a population of 1,200, which suffered the brunt of the devastation.
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A storm surge of up to 14ft turned the town’s roads into roof-high waterways.
Aerial footage of the aftermath from a CNN helicopter showed houses closest to the beach had been washed away leaving only their foundations.
Further inland half the buildings were reduced to piles of wood, and those still standing had been left heavily damaged.
Nearly 300 people were known to have ignored a mandatory evacuation order to leave Mexico Beach before the storm.
One resident who stayed, who gave his name as Scott, told CNN he saw "cars floating by" his house. He added: "The next thing, houses started floating in front of our home. Then everything went black.
"We had furniture in our house that wasn’t even our furniture, the surge had brought stuff in so bad. It’s like the walls collapsed and everything. The only thing I could find of ours was my briefcase."
Brock Long, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, called the town "ground zero".
Speaking from the Oval Office, Donald Trump said FEMA was getting "rave reviews" for its response. He said the storm was "unbelievably destructive and powerful" and he plans to visit the area next week.
Measured by wind speed Michael was the fourth strongest hurricane ever to make landfall in the US, and the strongest since 1992.
Along the Florida Panhandle pine trees were snapped, cars tossed along roads, streets signs twisted, and white sand beaches washed away.
An 80-mile stretch of Interstate 10, the main east-west highway along the panhandle, was closed.
Nearly one million homes and businesses in Florida and neighbouring states were without power.
Rick Scott, the Florida governor, said there had been "unimaginable destruction". He added: "So many lives have been changed forever. So many families have lost everything. This hurricane was an absolute monster."
Thousands of National Guard troops, police, and medical teams were searching damaged homes for survivors.
Patients were evacuated from damaged hospitals and nursing homes in Panama City, a town with a population of 35,000.
Nine people there were rescued by helicopter from the bathroom of a house after the roof collapsed.
Supplies were being flown in by helicopter to a state mental hospital, where the criminally insane are held, after it was cut off by flooding.
John Billiot, president of America’s Cajun Navy, volunteers who join disaster rescue efforts, said: "We’ve been doing this since 2005 and I have never been scared of a storm a day in my life.
"This one right here put the fear of God into me. It gives me goosebumps talking about it."