"We're looking at a significant storm with significant impact, possibly greater than I've seen in my 59 years of life, " Johnson said of his city on the shore of Apalachicola Bay, which where about 90 percent of Florida's oysters are harvested.
Buildings in Panama City were crushed, tall pine trees were sent flying and a steeple was knocked off a church.
Al Hancock, 45, who works on a tour boat, survived in Panama City with his wife and dog.
"Do not risk your life, leave NOW if you were told to do so", it said.
Gov. Rick Scott said the Panhandle woke up to "unimaginable destruction". An estimated 6,000 people evacuated to emergency shelters, mostly in Florida, and that number was expected to swell to 20,000 across five states by week's end, said Brad Kieserman of the American Red Cross. The area is known for its small coastal towns and wildlife reserves.
From Indian Pass, Florida, to Cedar Key, Florida, 8 to 12 feet of storm surge could inundate some areas, the agency warned. With Michael's winds projected to be even stronger, residents were urged to evacuate inland.
As flooding gets worse and worse, more dots will turn blue.
Just past year, 14 people died following Hurricane Irma when a South Florida nursing home lost power and air conditioning.
"It was so scary you'd poo yourself", said retiree Tom Garcia, 60, who was trapped inside his Mexico Beach home as water poured in to waist height.
Michael has left about 920,000 households and businesses without power across Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and North Carolina.
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Among those helping are about 450 Florida Highway Patrol officers, many of whom drove through the night to the Panhandle to help with rescues.
"Radar data indicate that the eye of Michael is moving inland over portions of Bay and Calhoun counties in the Florida Panhandle".
As it came ashore, Michael was just shy of a Category 5 - defined as a storm packing wind speeds of 157 miles per hour or above.
More than 370,000 people in Florida have been ordered to evacuate and move to higher ground. Hurricane-force winds reach out up to 40 miles from the center of the sotmr.
The region should brace for "major infrastructure damage", specifically to electricity distribution, wastewater treatment systems and transportation networks, Jeff Byard, associate administrator for FEMA, told reporters on a conference call with Reuters.
- Top winds: 155 miles per hour (250 kph), strong enough to completely destroy homes and cause weekslong power outages.
The deaths illustrate the ripples of Michael's devastation beyond the Florida Panhandle, where Michael left more than 350,000 without power and entire neighborhoods in ruins.
"Hurricane conditions are expected within the hurricane warning area along the U.S. Gulf Coast by Wednesday, with tropical storm conditions expected by tonight or early Wednesday".
Florida has declared a state of emergency, as have Alabama and Georgia.
About 3,500 Florida National Guard troops were deployed, along with more than 1,000 search-and-rescue personnel, Governor Scott said.
Michael also disrupted energy operations in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico as it approached land, cutting crude oil production by more than 40 percent and natural gas output by almost one-third as offshore platforms were evacuated.