Torn roofs, flooded homes and families trapped by high water Thursday bore witness to the wrath of Hurricane Ivan that pummeled the US Gulf Coast overnight.
In Gulf Shores, Alabama, where the ferocious hurricane slammed ashore, homes were shattered, businesses lost their roofs and deep flood waters cut off access to part of the beachside town.
Dozens of people who had defied evacuation orders were stranded as a surge brought in by the storm swamped roads and homes.
In Mobile, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida, uprooted trees and downed power lines littered the streets. Emergency crews started removing tonnes of debris, including smashed traffic lights, lamp posts and billboards.
When Ivan's powerful eyewall hit land at 2:00 am (0600 GMT) it was a category four hurricane with winds of 215 kilometers (135 miles) an hour.
A few people in the worst-hit areas opted to ride it the storm in their homes, and several admitted it was a rough ride.
The power of the hurricane was such that it even rocked solid concrete buildings, twisted metal structures and sent massive waves crashing ashore.
"It was pretty wild," said Walt Silge, 79, whose Gulf Shore house only lost a few shingles.
"But my kids were worried, they kept calling me to make sure I was all right," Silge said with a smile as he raked the debris off his manicured lawn.
Nearby, Jack Dixon, a 57-year-old schoolteacher carried huge branches out of his flooded yard. His home only suffered minor damage, but he worried about a house he owns closer to the water.
A few dozen people who remained on their beachfront houses were trapped by high water, but those who managed to get through to emergency services by telephone said they had no indication of any casualties.
But they said their homes suffered extensive damage.
"The beach area has got to be torn to pieces," said Dixon. "I guess I'll have to start all over now," he said with a sad smile.
Local emergency services director Leigh Anne Ryds said the situation was the same across the county.
"Hundreds of houses in Baldwin County were damaged, quite a few lost their roofs. At least one collapsed completely," said Ryds.
She said she talked over the phone to a man on nearby Ono island who was trapped in a house flooded by knee-deep water, which lost its roof during the night.
Search and rescue officials hoped to go out by helicopter to the areas closest to the Gulf of Mexico, but were waiting for the winds to abate.
In areas that could be reached, police went door-to-door to ensure that residents were safe and sound.
Four hundred National Guardsmen were on the way to help with rescue efforts and to guard against looting.
Power crews also started deploying along the coast to restore power to the hundreds of thousands who lost electricity overnight, but said it could take days if not week to complete the job.
And as the winds started easing, a few of the hundreds of thousands of people who had fled ahead of Ivan's wrath headed back, some to find their homes or businesses shattered.
Nancy Maré, 53, who stayed at her mother's house in a relatively protected part of Gulf Shores worried about her future as she saw the convenience store where she worked smashed to pieces by Ivan.
"I was just walking the dogs, I didn't expect it to be gone," she said as she stared in disbelief at the destruction.
She was yet to return to her home that lay in Ivan's destructive path.
"Now I don't have a job, and I don't even know if I have a home."All rights reserved. © 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.