When their house filled with surging ocean water, they fled upstairs.
Powerful Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle with terrifying winds of 155 miles per hour Wednesday, splintering homes and submerging neighbourhoods before continuing its destructive march inland across the Southeast.
In North Carolina's mountains, drivers also had to be plucked from cars in high water.
Mr Rick Scott told a news conference on Tuesday: "Hurricane Michael is a monster storm and it keeps getting more unsafe".
A driver in North Carolina also was killed when a tree fell on his auto.
Michael was forecast to have the power to uproot trees, block roads and knock out power for days by the time it hits Florida Wednesday. Street flooding was reported in Roanoke and other southwestern Virginia cities that reported motorists caught in flooding had to be rescued. Similar scenes played out in parts of Virginia as the storm raced seawards. It killed at least 12 people in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia, officials said.
Among those helping are about 450 Florida Highway Patrol officers, many of whom drove through the night to the Panhandle to help with rescues.
Under a clear blue sky, families living along the Florida Panhandle emerged from shelters and hotels to a perilous landscape of shattered homes and shopping centers, wailing sirens and hovering helicopters. Downed power lines and twisted street signs lay all around. Aluminum siding was shredded and homes were split by fallen trees.
Hundreds of residents were rescued on Thursday from cars, apartments and homes flooded by rushing water.
Two hospitals in Panama City were closed, but two temporary facilities opened to receive their patients and other people injured by the storm.
And unless the rate of greenhouse gas emissions changes, hurricanes are expected to intensify more rapidly in the coming decades, the scientific research group Climate Central said.
Florida governor Rick Scott called Michael a "monstrous hurricane" with devastating potential from high winds, storm surge and heavy rains. Boston-based Karen Clark & Company included privately insured wind and storm surge damage to residential, commercial and industrial properties and vehicles in its number. The figure does not include losses covered by the National Flood Insurance Program.
Most of the rain was blamed on a low-pressure system off the Pacific coast, but Hurricane Michael in the Caribbean could have also contributed.
A hurricane warning was up across the Florida panhandle, a low-lying area of beachfront resort and retirement communities on northeastern Gulf coast.
In Georgia, an 11-year-old girl, Sarah Radney, was killed when part of a metal carport crashed into her family's trailer in Lake Seminole and struck her in the head, local officials said. A driver in North Carolina was killed when a tree fell on his vehicle.
The Virginia Department of Emergency Management tweeted "Virginia storm updates as of 7 a.m today".
A fast and furious Hurricane Michael is speeding toward the Florida Panhandle with 120 miles per hour winds and a potential storm surge of 13 feet, giving tens of thousands of people precious little time to get out or board up. It's just stuff", Clarke said repeatedly as she eyed the destruction around her. "It's just stuff. The task ahead: finding and hopefully safely accounting for all those who stayed behind. Residents are walking through piles of debris, some assessing the damage and others trying to get out and find food.
Mishelle McPherson and her ex-husband searched for a friend's elderly mother who thought she would be OK in her small cinderblock house just 150 yards from the Gulf.
"I can't think anymore because I just don't know what to do", she told CNN's Gary Tuchman, breaking down in tears.