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A fast and furious Hurricane Michael is speeding toward the Florida Panhandle with 120 miles per hour winds and a potential storm surge of 13 feet, giving tens of thousands of people precious little time to get out or board up.

Communications outages and roads blocked by downed trees, strewn power lines and debris made it hard to get an overall assessment on Thursday of the damage wrought by Michael, but the initial picture was grim.

Hurricane Michael is forecast to make landfall Wednesday afternoon, likely between Panama City and Apalachicola in the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend area. Some residents with destroyed or damaged homes counted themselves lucky to have survived. A falling tree killed a man after it crashed into his home in Greensboro, Florida, authorities said.

Buildings in Panama City were crushed, tall pine trees were sent flying and a steeple was knocked off a church.

"We don't know if it's going to wipe out our house or not", Jason McDonald, of Panama City, said as he and his wife drove north into Alabama with their two children, ages 5 and 7. The video - taken by storm chaser Brett Adair - showed how wind and rain ravaged Jinks Middle School. A year ago the school welcomed students and families displaced by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

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

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While interests across the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend areas are urged to get out of coastal areas in Hurricane Michael's warning strike zone as the storm of a lifetime bears down for a Category 4 strike Wednesday, another risky situation is developing inland across Georgia, with the storm poised to inflict rare devastation there, as well. "Roofs are gone", Principal Britt Smith told CNN after talking by phone with those who did not evacuate.

Thousands of people hunkered down in shelters overnight after fleeing their homes ahead of the storm.

Michael pummeled communities across the Panhandle and turned streets into roof-high waterways.

Despite a mandatory evacuation order, officials said 285 out of roughly 1,200 Mexico Beach residents opted not to leave. That means sustained hurricane force winds are possible in excess of 74 miles per hour. By 8 a.m. Tuesday, top winds had reached 100 miles per hour (155 kph), and it was forecast to strengthen more, with winds topping 111 miles per hour (179 kph), capable of causing devastating damage.

The Florida Panhandle, Big Bend and southern Georgia were expected to receive as much as 8 inches (20 cm) of rainfall, with isolated maximum amounts of 12 inches that may lead to severe flash flooding.

Brad Rippey, a meteorologist for the U.S. Agriculture Department, said Michael severely damaged cotton, timber, pecans and peanuts, causing estimated liabilities as high as $1.9 billion and affecting up to 3.7 million crop acres (1.5 million hectares). On Thursday, oil producers were checking production platforms and beginning to return crews to more than 90 offshore facilities that had been evacuated.


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