Large areas of the coast of the Panhandle, including Mexico Beach and Panama City, were left in ruins. The area is home to a number of rural communities that are among the poorest in the state.
In Mexico Beach, a seafront town where Michael made landfall, entire blocks of houses were razed, boats hurled into yards and the streets cluttered with downed power lines and trees.
Florida Governor Rick Scott said Michael caused «unbelievable devastation» and assured evacuees and other residents Friday a strong relief effort from his administration is underway.
Scott wrote on Twitter, «We are working as quickly as possible so that you can return, check on your things and begin the recovery process.» Scott added, «Right now, the top priority is making sure that things are safe.»
The U.S. Army said more than 2,000 Florida National Guard soldiers were helping with recovery efforts. Officials said more than 400,000 homes and businesses were without electricity and 20,000 utility workers had been deployed to restore power.
Utility companies said more than 1 million homes and businesses were without power from Florida to Virginia early Friday.
The American Red Cross said the number of evacuees in shelters was expected to increase to 20,000 across five states by Friday.
Michael made landfall in the Florida Panhandle with maximum sustained winds of 249 kilometers per hour, putting it just below the Category 5 status that tops the scale used to describe the strength and destructive potential of hurricanes.
The Atlantic hurricane season began in June and ends November 30.