Rescue crews confronted with shattered roads, fallen trees and miles of ruins struggled Friday to get to Florida Panhandle communities hardest hit by Hurricane Michael, saying they expected the death toll of 17 to rise.
None of the confirmed fatalities were reported from the oceanfront communities, such as Mexico Beach, Port St. Joe and Panama City, that bore the brunt of the storm's wrath, and rescuers have so far been unable to conduct thorough searches there.
FEMA crews have been using bulldozers and other heavy equipment to push a path through debris to allow rescuers to probe the rubble with sniffer dogs as drone aircraft and helicopters searched from above.
Michael blew ashore near the small Florida Panhandle town of Mexico Beach on Wednesday afternoon as one of the most powerful storms in U.S. history, with winds of up to 155 miles per hour.
It pushed a wall of seawater inland, causing widespread flooding.
The storm, which in less than two days grew from a tropical storm to a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, tore apart entire neighborhoods in the Panhandle, reducing homes to concrete foundations or piles of wood and siding.
Phone service to the most damaged areas was down, leaving survivors no way to contact worried relatives.