Hurricane Michael tears apart Florida towns, kills 7

Famous for staying open during natural disasters Waffle House closes 21 restaurants

Waffle Houses stay open 24/7- but 18 restaurants in Florida have closed because of how severe Hurricane Michael

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. Rescuers searched for survivors in the rubble of ravaged beach communities on Thursday after Michael, one of the most powerful hurricanes in USA history, slammed into the Florida Panhandle, causing widespread flooding and killing at least seven people. The storm impacted hundreds of thousands of people across the South and they need help to recover and rebuild.

One of the hardest-hit spots was Mexico Beach where entire blocks of homes near the beach were washed away, leaving nothing but concrete slabs in the sand.

Twenty miles (32km) south of Mexico Beach, floodwaters were more than 7 feet (2.1 meters) deep near Apalachicola, a town of about 2,300 residents, hurricane center chief Ken Graham said. The Coast Guard said it rescued at least 27 people, and the National Guard rescued 20 people who survived the direct hit on Mexico Beach. A year ago, the school welcomed students and families displaced by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

See Hurricane Michael's path of destruction.

Florida is also still shaking off the effects of Hurricane Irma in some places, with several resorts in the Florida Keys only just open again nearly a year after the Category 3 storm ripped through the area in September 2017.

The storm packed 155-mile-per-hour winds when it came ashore, and also pushed a wall of ocean water into the Florida coast. About 359,000 customers in Florida were in the dark early Thursday, according to the state's emergency management agency.

The third-most powerful hurricane to hit the USA mainland in recorded history left a wide path of destruction across Florida and Georgia, destroying homes and shopping centres and knocking down trees, killing at least two people.

Numerous injured in Florida were taken to hard-hit Panama City, 20 miles (32 km) northwest of Mexico Beach.

More than 830,000 homes and businesses were without power in Florida, Alabama and Georgia early Thursday.

The hurricane, the fiercest to hit Florida in 80 years, pummeled communities across the Panhandle and turned streets into roof-high waterways.

The number of people in emergency shelters was expected to swell to 20,000 across five states by Friday, said Brad Kieserman of the American Red Cross.

Watch videos, courtesy CNN, of Michael's damage.

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.

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