Florida Governor Rick Scott promised a strong relief effort from his administration Thursday after the state was slammed by Hurricane Michael, the most powerful storm to hit the U.S. mainland in 50 years.
“We are going to be aggressive with recovery and response over the coming days and will do everything we can to assist our communities that have seen impacts from this devastating storm,” Scott said.
He also called on people in hurricane-hit communities to stay in their homes to give emergency crews room to carry out their work.
Winds lessen, rain a threat
The National Hurricane Center downgraded Michael to a tropical storm early Thursday, saying its maximum winds had dropped below the threshold for a hurricane.
But while the winds eased, the threat of flooding rain, including in areas already soaked by a recent hurricane, Florence, along the U.S. East Coast persisted.
The storm spent the night over Georgia, and was forecast to take a slow path across South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia before exiting into the Atlantic Ocean by Friday morning. Those states could receive 7 to 15 centimeters (3 to 6 inches) of rain.
Authorities have attributed one death to the storm after a tree fell on a man in the Florida capital Tallahassee.
Michael made landfall Wednesday in the Florida Panhandle with maximum sustained winds of 249 kilometers per hour, putting it just below Category 5 status that tops the scale used to describe the strength and destructive potential of hurricanes.
“We are catching some hell” was how a Panama City Beach resident who decided to ride it out described Michael as it made landfall.
The storm blew down trees and utility wires throughout Florida Gulf Coast towns, while also ripping off roofs and inundating areas with several meters of storm surge.
President Donald Trump has been in touch with state governors and said a federal emergency team is standing by and ready to help with storm recovery. He said he plans to visit storm-ravaged areas as soon as he can.
Michael caused destruction in western Cuba and parts of Central America before striking the United States.
At least 13 storm-related deaths have been reported in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.
The Atlantic hurricane season began in June and ends Nov. 30.