The fast-moving Category 4 storm - the third most powerful ever to make landfall on the United States - struck the coast just 30 miles east of the popular tourist destination of Panama City Beach, which had been largely evacuated ahead of the monster hurricane.
Hurricane Michael's violence was visible on Thursday in shattered Florida coastal towns, where rows of homes were ripped from foundations and roofs were peeled off schools by the near-record-force storm blamed for seven deaths.
Communications outages and roads blocked by downed trees, strewn power lines and debris made it hard to get an overall assessment of the damage wrought by Michael, but the initial picture was grim.
The US Army said more than 2,000 Florida National Guard soldiers were working on the recovery operations.
As of Thursday afternoon, Michael was a tropical storm bringing fierce winds to the Carolinas, as well as flash flooding to portions of North Carolina and Virginia, according to the National Hurricane Center. A few blocks inland, about half the homes were reduced to piles of wood and siding and those still standing had suffered heavy damage.
The ultimate effect of Michael will take weeks to assess, but initial reports likened the ravages to that of Hurricane Andrew, which hit south Florida in 1992 causing $25billion in damages and took nearly two years to rebuild from.
Over 900,000 homes and businesses in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas were without power.
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"There are so many downed power lines and trees that it's nearly impossible to get through the city", Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson said. Both were killed when trees crashed onto their homes.
Mr Long said many Florida buildings were not built to withstand a storm above the strength of a Category 3 hurricane on the five-level Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. "We thought the windows were going to break at any time", Beu said.
The fatalities included Sarah Radney, an 11-year-old girl in Seminole County, Georgia, and a man in Greensboro, Florida.
Hundreds of cars had broken windows and twisted street signs lay on the ground.
One of the carport's legs punctured the roof and hit her in the head. Pine trees were stripped and snapped off about 6 meters high.
More than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast were ordered or urged to evacuate as Michael closed in. The storm was moving northeast at 21 miles per hour with maximum sustained winds of 50 miles per hour.
Michael, the third-most powerful hurricane ever to hit the USA mainland, weakened overnight to a tropical storm and pushed north-east, bringing drenching rains to Georgia and the Carolinas, which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence last month.