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Storm Michael death toll in US rises to 13 after 5 killed in Virginia

A resident of St. Marks, Fla., rescues a cooler out of the floodwaters near his home Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. Powerful Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle with terrifying winds of 155 mph Wednesday, splintering homes and submerging neigh
AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

The death toll from Hurricane Michael rose to at least 13 on Friday amid fears it would continue to climb as search-and-rescue teams scour the debris of the Florida town that bore the brunt of the monster storm.

"Mexico Beach is devastated," Florida Governor Rick Scott said of the town where Michael made landfall as a Category 4 storm on Wednesday.

"It's like a bomb went off," Scott said as he toured the town of 1,000 people on the Gulf of Mexico. "It's like a war zone."

Search and rescue teams on Friday faced a second day of sifting through the ruined landscape left by furious Hurricane Michael as it devastated coastal communities in the Florida Panhandle.

"Virginia storm updates as of 7 am [1100 GMT Friday]. 5 confirmed Michael-related fatalities. 520,000 without power. 1,200 closed roads. 5 suspected tornadoes," read a tweet by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

With the death toll at six, Michael, now downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone, was out over the open Atlantic, east of Norfolk, Virginia.

It left behind it a stunning swathe of destruction.

In Mexico Beach, a seafront town where the hurricane made landfall, houses had been razed by a storm surge, boats had been tossed into yards and the streets were littered with trees and power lines.

Florida Governor Rick Scott said the storm had caused "unbelievable devastation" and the priority for the moment was looking for survivors among residents who failed to heed orders to evacuate.

"I'm very concerned about our citizens that didn't evacuate and I just hope that, you know, we don't have much loss of life," Scott told ABC.

The US Army said more than 2,000 Florida National Guard soldiers were working on the recovery operations.

There have been eleven confirmed storm-related deaths so far -- four in Florida's Gadsden County, one in Georgia, one in North Carolina, and five in Virginia.

President Donald Trump pledged to help storm victims.

"Our hearts are with the thousands who have sustained property damage, in many cases entirely wiped out," Trump said. "We will not rest or waver until the job is done and the recovery is complete."

In this aerial view, a storm damaged church is seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida ( Brendan Smialowski (AFP) )

Florida officials said more than 400,000 homes and businesses were without electricity in Florida and Governor Scott said nearly 20,000 utility workers had been deployed to restore power.

Michael made landfall on Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 storm, the most powerful to hit Florida's northwestern Panhandle in more than a century.

Michael has since been downgraded to a tropical storm as it moves through the Carolinas, which are still recovering from last month's Hurricane Florence.

Mexico Beach, where the hurricane came ashore, suffered massive destruction from the 155 mile per hour (250 kph) winds and several feet of storm surge.

- 'Houses started floating' -

Home after home was razed from its foundations in the town of around 1,000 people, leaving just bare concrete slabs. Others were missing roofs or walls. Roads were impassable and canals were choked with debris.

A Mexico Beach resident who rode out the hurricane described the impact of the storm surge to CNN.

"When the water came in houses started floating," said the man identified as Scott. "We had furniture in our house that wasn't even our furniture. The surge had brought stuff in.

"There's nothing left here anymore," he said of the town. "Our lives are gone here. All the stores, all the restaurants, everything.

"It's hard to grasp," he said. "This was never in our imagination."

Un magasin détruit à Panama City (Floride), après le passage de l'ouragan Michael, le 11 octobre 2018. ( Emily KASK (AFP) )

Nearby Panama City Beach experienced similar damage along with other communities along the shore of the Gulf of Mexico.

A storage facility in Panama City Beach housing hundreds of boats was ripped apart by the strong winds with the roof shredding into strips of twisted metal.

Margaret Decambre, a 48-year-old gemologist, rode out the storm in her Panama City fourth-floor condo with her husband and three cats.

"The wind was so hard that it was pushing water through windows and doors," Decambre said. "We had probably about half an inch of water on my floor and no way to stop it from coming in.

"It's total devastation -- no power, no water, no communication," she said.

Decambre said she had opened her home to a friend who takes care of three elderly women.

"We brought all four of them and their cat to my condo," she said. "Yes, it is all about helping others."

- Storm over North Carolina -

Hurricane Michael ( Tatiana MAGARINOS (AFP) )

At 5:00 pm Eastern time (2100 GMT), Michael was over North Carolina, the National Hurricane Center said.

It warned of possible flash flooding in North Carolina and Virginia and said the storm was still packing winds of 50 mph.

"The center of Michael will move across eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia this evening, and move into the western Atlantic Ocean tonight," it said.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) chief Brock Long said Michael was the most intense hurricane to strike the Florida Panhandle since record keeping began in 1851.

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.

As it came ashore, Michael was just shy of a Category 5 -- defined as a storm packing top sustained wind speeds of 157 mph or above.

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