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Florida counts the devastating cost of Hurricane Michael ahead of peak holiday season

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 4 days ago Simon & Susan Veness
a sign on the side of a building: A boarded up tourist shop in Panama City Beach, Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael © AFP/GETTY A boarded up tourist shop in Panama City Beach, Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael

Florida’s glittering Emerald Coast will be missing much of its lustre for the next few months in the wake of devastating Hurricane Michael, which scored a massive direct hit on the north-west part of the Sunshine State on Wednesday.

a view of a city next to a body of water: Panama City Beach is one of the area's big draws © getty Panama City Beach is one of the area's big draws 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.

A Panama City Beach resident assessing the damage this morning © Provided by Telegraph Media Group Limited A Panama City Beach resident assessing the damage this morning All non-essential travel to and from the area, also known as Florida’s Panhandle, has been suspended, but the busy cruise port of Tampa 250 miles to the south was able to breathe a sigh of relief as it largely avoided the worst effects of the storm.

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Eight ships from Tampa, Miami and Galveston in Texas had to be re-routed from the path of Michael, but all three ports are operating normally again and each of Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line say passengers for the next cruises will not be affected.

a bench in front of a building: The view from a hotel room in Panama City Beach today © AFP The view from a hotel room in Panama City Beach today The same will not be the case for the near 300-mile stretch of coastline from Pensacola to Cedar Key, which attracts around 17 million visitors a year to its pristine white-sand beaches and clear, shallow emerald-green waters.

Watch: Space Station captures dramatic footage of Hurricane Michael [The Independent]

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With winds of 155mph and a storm surge of almost 14 feet, the hurricane has left a trail of destruction more than 100 miles wide at its immediate point of impact and stretching in excess of 200 miles inland into southern Georgia, where it finally subsided into a rain-heavy tropical storm.

a close up of a pond: The region is renowned for its pristine beaches - Credit: GETTY © Provided by Telegraph Media Group Limited The region is renowned for its pristine beaches - Credit: GETTY Florida governor Rick Scott had warned of “unimaginable devastation” from the approaching menace, and it looked like he was proved right on Thursday morning as the first rescue and repair crews arrived to assess the damage.

The small town of Mexico Beach – population 1,200 – took the full force of Michael and first reports indicated the community had been all but wiped out, with evacuated residents urged to stay well away from the area.

a large room: The view from a hotel room in Panama City Beach today - Credit: AFP © Provided by Telegraph Media Group Limited The view from a hotel room in Panama City Beach today - Credit: AFP For the big tourist destinations of Panama City Beach, Destin and Fort Walton, it could be months before they are back on an even keel as the hurricane destroyed homes, businesses and resorts, uprooted thousands of trees, and tore down power lines across the region. On Thursday morning, some 830,000 homes were reported to be without power as a result of the damage.

Officials in the state capital of Tallahassee, 100 miles to the north-east, insist it is too early to assess the full scale of the destruction, but TV pictures told a story of widespread wreckage along the coast and splintered trees almost everywhere, blocking roads and shutting down the four local airports.

a view of a city next to a body of water: Panama City Beach is one of the area's big draws - Credit: getty © Provided by Telegraph Media Group Limited Panama City Beach is one of the area's big draws - Credit: getty The big tourist attraction of Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City Beach was among the casualties, with extensive wind damage to some of its buildings, but all its animals were reported to be safe thanks to a skeleton staff who stayed behind to look after the six-acre facility.

Video: Families left homeless after Hurricane Michael buffets Florida [Newsflare All Videos]

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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 almost two years to rebuild from.

a store inside of a building: A Panama City Beach resident assessing the damage this morning - Credit: 2018 Getty Images/Joe Raedle © Provided by Telegraph Media Group Limited A Panama City Beach resident assessing the damage this morning - Credit: 2018 Getty Images/Joe Raedle 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 almost a year after the Category 3 storm ripped through the area in September 2017.

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