'Our lives are gone here.' Michael leaves behind untold years of misery

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Credit: CNN Credit: CNN

Linda Clarke gasped when she returned to what was once her stately beach house -- before Hurricane Michael turned it into heaps of wood and metal.

"Oooooh wow," she said, her voice shaking. Her husband, Raoul Clarke, walked past her.

"Raoul. It's just stuff. It's just stuff," the Florida resident repeatedly said as she looked at the destruction around her. "It's just stuff. We can replace."

A few days ago, they were living in their dream home at Shell Point Beach. After Michael blew ashore Wednesday, the home lies in crumbled blocks -- with a lime green boat nestled under the stairs. What the 9-foot storm surge didn't crash into, the 155 mph winds wiped out.

Aside from their footsteps and expressions of shock, the only other sound was the now calm ocean in the background.

 

'I can't think anymore ... I just don't know what to do'


Such scenes replayed in several neighborhoods across the Florida Panhandle, where shell-shocked residents returned home to devastation after Michael's fury.

Debra Murphy looked at the debris in her home in Shell Point Beach, where she raised her three daughters.

"I can't think anymore because I just don't know what to do," she told CNN's Gary Tuchman, breaking down in tears.

Michael careened across the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall as a Category 4 storm with 155 mph winds, killing at least six people and reducing towns to rubble.

The victims included an 11-year-old killed in Seminole County, Georgia, when a metal carport crashed through a roof, hitting her head. Another person, Steven Sweet, died when a tree fell on a home near Greensboro, Florida.

Before it moved on to Georgia, Michael lingered for two hours in the Florida Panhandle, which hasn't seen such a monster storm since record keeping started decades ago.

Meteorologists had warned for days that Michael was a beast. But its rapid intensification over the Gulf of Mexico's warm waters hours before landfall and its fury farther inland caught many by surprise, CNN meteorologist Robert Shackelford said.

'At this point, there's really no making sense'
In Panama City, home to about 38,000 people, Michael's fury was evident, with trees snapped into half and buildings with roofs ripped off.

David Sebastian rode out the storm in the city and barely made it out alive.

The hurricane peeled off the roof of his town home and blew out the windows, sending water pouring in. With trees down, and power and cell service out, he could not safely evacuate. He spent the night with his roommate and five dogs, surrounded by water.

"We had to stay in the house in two inches of water," he said Thursday.

Schools were not spared, either. Jinks Middle School welcomed children displaced by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year. The Panama City school was torn apart by Michael, and Principal Britt Smith choked up as he looked at the decimated building.

"Resiliency is important, and it's an important life message that we all have to learn," Smith said. "But at this point, there's really no making sense. It's just how do we get together, how do we recover?"

Standing in the rubble of what was once the parish hall of St. Dominic Catholic Church in Panama City, Rev. Luke Farabaugh described the explosive storm and the destruction that followed. But he also shared a message of hope and gratitude.

"Things, we can replace," he said. "We've seen a lot of signs of hope. I've been telling people ... to have hope."

 

'There's nothing left here anymore'


What were once towns with white sandy beaches are deserted and strewn with debris.

In Mexico Beach, the ground zero of devastation, receding floodwaters revealed what looks like an apocalyptic mess.

Scott Boutwell tearfully described how his walls collapsed and someone else's furniture swept into his house. The only thing that belonged to him in his home was his briefcase.

"I came here and walked inside ... and there's somebody's else's couch inside. It's not even mine. That's not even my recliner," he said.

As Boutwell spoke, high-pitched fire alarms beeped continuously in the rubble -- a constant reminder of warnings that came long after the danger hit.

"Our lives are gone here. All the stores, all the restaurants, everything," he said. "There's nothing left here anymore."

Outside, neighbors' homes and cars floated by his house.