Hurricane Michael has arrived, and it's stronger than anyone expected

The time for evacuating is gone’ Record-breaking Hurricane Michael set to batter Florida

Waves crash along a pier as Hurricane Michael approaches Florida

People look on at a damaged store after Hurricane Michael passed through on October 10 in Panama City, Florida.

Florida's Panhandle is one huge disaster zone after Hurricane Michael made landfall Wednesday.

In terms of wind speed, Michael is the fourth strongest storm ever to hit the U.S. after Andrew in 1992, Camille in 1969 and an unnamed Labor Day Hurricane in 1935.

As Florence made its way toward the coast of the Carolinas last month, it weakened from a Category 4 to a Category 1 storm with sustained winds of 90 miles per hour.

Hurricane Michael has battered the Gulf Coast - becoming the biggest storm to strike the Florida Panhandle, the state's northwest, since records began in 1851.

The death, in an area west of state capital Tallahassee, was the first confirmed since Michael made landfall.

Risky conditions from damaging winds and flooding rain were forecast to spread through Georgia and into the Carolinas Wednesday night and Thursday (Friday NZT).

A water-level station in Apalachicola, close to where Michael came ashore, reported a surge of almost 8 feet (2.5 meters). "It sounded like 40 jet engines going off".

"It's hard to convey in words the scale of the catastrophe in Panama City". "We were scared looking at it coming in, but we got lucky".

"This is the worst storm that our Florida Panhandle has seen in a century", Gov. Rick Scott said.

About 162,000 homes and business customers were already without power around mid-afternoon in Florida, Georgia and Alabama, utility companies said.

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Gen, Terrence O'Shaughnessy, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said some Florida residents may have been taken by surprise by the rapid escalation of the storm.

"I know that there's a lot of bad stuff that happened out there on the Panhandle, but I think that we were very fortunate here", Lake City resident Tyler Flanagan said.

An estimated 375,000 people in more than 20 counties were ordered or advised to evacuate.

Catastrophe risk modelling and analysis firm Corelogic has just released an estimate of the insured losses from storm surge and hurricane force winds, which is based on the landfall factors hence this is not a post-landfall estimate of industry losses.

Trump issued an emergency declaration for Florida, freeing up federal funds for relief operations and providing the assistance of FEMA, which has more than 3,000 people on the ground.

Hours earlier, meteorologists watched satellite imagery in complete awe as the storm intensified.

"We are in new territory", National Hurricane Center Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen wrote on Facebook. Only Hurricane Camille on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1969 and the so-called Labor Day hurricane of 1935 in the Florida Keys were more intense.

As the hurricane moves out of Florida, Scott warned that flash floods and tornadoes are still possibilities and said "the weather is still extremely risky".

"I'm just praying for them and, as soon as this passes, we will be out there doing everything we can to rescue everybody..." Hundreds of military families were moved out, and the base's aircraft, which include F-22 Raptors, were flown to safety hundreds of miles away.

Hargan, a bartender at a riverfront restaurant, feared he would lose his home and his job to the storm. "I'm freakin' scared I'm going to lose everything I own, man".

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