Hurricane Michael: 17 dead, Coastal Florida cities damaged beyond recognition

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Searchers on Friday uncovered the first body in the rubble of the Florida town of Mexico Beach, which was almost obliterated by Hurricane Michael, as the toll from the historic storm rose to at least 18 and was expected to climb further.

Search teams continued to pick their way through the ruins of Mexico Beach, the ground-zero town of about 1,000 people that was almost wiped off the map when Michael blew ashore there on Wednesday with devastating 155 miles per hour (249 kph) winds.

No other information was available about the dead man found in Mexico Beach, said Joseph Zahralban, Miami's fire chief who was leading a search and rescue unit.

"This is a war zone".

Rescue teams, hampered by power and telephone outages, were going door-to-door and using cadaver dogs, drones and heavy equipment to hunt for people in the rubble in Mexico Beach and other Florida coastal communities, such as Port St. Joe and Panama City.

"I expect the fatality count to rise today and tomorrow as we get through the debris", Brock said Friday morning.

In the largely destroyed oceanside town of Mexico Beach, Councilwoman Linda Albrecht learned her home was gone through online news video.

"Very few people live to tell what it's like to experience storm surge", he said.

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.

State officials say almost 300 people in Mexico Beach ignored mandatory evacuation orders, but it is unclear if they were able to get out at the last minute. "Right now I just need communication", said Mullins of not having cell phone service.

Aerial footage shows coastal cities in Florida completely wiped out. "So I followed the mandatory evacuation order and left with my wife".

"We didn't have anything", said Ruth Corley, a spokeswoman for the Bay County Sheriff's Department. "For me the cotton crop is as bad as it gets. I'm still trying to process it".

"Before, it was paradise", Mexico Beach resident Lance Hanson told NPR's Greg Allen. The walls had collapsed and "the only thing I could find of ours was my briefcase", he said.

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"I told him, 'Hold on, just hold on, I'm calling for help now, ' " she told CNN affiliate WFTS on Thursday, sobbing.

Others came with nothing - as there was nothing left to save.

The impact of Tropical Storm Michael continues in North Carolina, with one death in Iredell County, 490,000 people without power Friday morning, ongoing flooding and more than a dozen school districts closed.

Michael made landfall in the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday as a Category 4 hurricane - the strongest on record to hit the area - and charged north through Georgia and into the Carolinas and Virginia, wreaking havoc and causing emergencies.

In North Carolina, a 38-year-old man died when a large tree fell on his vehicle Thursday on United States 64 east of Statesville, Iredell County Fire Marshal David Souther said.

Emergency officials said they had completed an initial "hasty search" of the devastation, looking for the living or the dead, and had begun more careful inspections of thousands of ruined buildings.

US President Donald Trump said he'll visit affected areas "early next week".

After Hurricane Michael's shrieking winds and crashing waves died down, Brandon and Sydni Troupe drove to their neighborhood in Panama City, Florida, to look at the damage.

And Michael also was deadly, both in Florida and beyond.

Meanwhile, thousands of National Guard troops, law enforcement officers and rescue teams still had much to do in the hardest hit area: Florida's Panhandle.

The number of dead was expected to rise, but authorities scrapped plans for setting up a temporary morgue, indicating they had yet to see signs of mass casualties from the most powerful hurricane to hit the continental almost 50 years.

Long said many Florida buildings were not built to withstand a storm above the strength of a Category 3 hurricane on the five-level Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

Florida Governor Rick Scott tweeted on Saturday that millions of meals and gallons of water are already on the way to the impacted communities.