The death toll from hurricane Michael which made its landfall on Wednesday rose to 17 on Saturday.
'Mexico Beach is devastated', said Florida Governor Rick Scott. "It's like a bomb went off," Scott said as he toured the town of 1,000 people on the Gulf of Mexico. "It's like a war zone." Rescue teams were using sniffer dogs in Mexico Beach on Friday in a search for victims who may be buried under the rubble in the debris-strewn community.
Brock Long, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), warned that he expected the number of deaths to rise.
"I hope we don't see it climb dramatically but I have reasons to believe we still haven't got into some of the hardest hit areas," he said.
"What's happening is search and rescue is trying to get into the rubble to make sure that there's nobody covered up, trying to assess if there's additional casualties there," Long added.
Dozens of structures in Mexico Beach -- homes, shops and restaurants -- were lifted off their foundations by storm surge and 155-mile per hour (250 kph) winds and moved hundreds of feet inland or smashed to bits.
"Very few people live to tell what it's like to experience storm surge," Long said. "Storm surge causes the most amount of loss of life."
State officials said Mexico Beach was under mandatory evacuation orders but some residents decided to stay and try to ride out the storm.
"You hope that somehow at the last minute a bunch of people got up and left or went somewhere else," said Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
At least four deaths from the storm have been confirmed in Florida, five in Virginia, one in Georgia and three in North Carolina.
US media on Friday quoted authorities in Jackson County, Florida, as reporting three deaths there, bringing Michael's toll to at least 16.
The latest two deaths in North Carolina occurred in McDowell County when a car struck a tree that had fallen across a road, officials said.
Hundreds of thousands of people remain without electricity in Florida, Georgia and Virginia, and officials say it could be weeks before power is fully restored.
President Donald Trump said he planned to visit Florida and Georgia.
"People have no idea how hard Hurricane Michael has hit the great state of Georgia," Trump tweeted. "I will be visiting both Florida and Georgia early next week. We are working very hard on every area and every state that was hit -- and we are with you!" Michael was the most intense hurricane to strike the Florida Panhandle since record keeping began in 1851.
People have no idea how hard Hurricane Michael has hit the great state of Georgia. I will be visiting both Florida and Georgia early next week. We are working very hard on every area and every state that was hit - we are with you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2018
Many of the damaged Florida buildings were not built to withstand a storm above the strength of a Category 3 hurricane on the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale.
About 5,000 US servicemen were deployed to help with relief and recovery efforts, the Pentagon said, using 100 helicopters and 1,800 high-water vehicles.
Tyndall Air Force Base, home to the F-22 stealth fighter, suffered extensive damage, according to aerial photos of the coastal facility.
The base was evacuated ahead of the hurricane and the costly fighter planes were flown to other installations out of the path of the storm.