Hurricane Michael: 17 dead, Coastal Florida cities damaged beyond recognition

Cristina Cross
October 13, 2018

Bill Shockey, 86, refused to leave Mexico Beach despite his daughter's pleas.

"When the water came in houses started floating", said the man identified as Scott.

The full extent of the damage was only slowly becoming clear, with some of the hardest-hit areas difficult to reach because of roads blocked by debris or water. "So we're just trying to give people hope at this point".

Search and rescue teams have found a body in the Florida Panhandle town almost wiped out by Hurricane Michael, and authorities said there is little doubt the death toll will rise further. High winds, downed trees, streets inundated by rising waters and multiple rescues of motorists from waterlogged cars played out in spots around Virginia and neighboring North Carolina. A driver in North Carolina was killed when a tree fell on his vehicle.

Numerous most heavily-hit areas have not yet been reached, as flooding, downed power lines, trees and other debris blocking roadways are prohibiting crews' access.

North Carolina officials reported two more deaths on Friday, raising the death toll there to three. Similar scenes played out in parts of Virginia as the storm raced seaward.

Nearly 1.2 million homes and businesses were without power from Florida to Virginia on Thursday because of the storm. Families living along the Panhandle are now faced with a struggle to survive in a perilous landscape of shattered homes and shopping centres, the storm debris spread far and wide.

A Family Dollar Store that had the storefront ripped off is seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Millville.

"I don't think we know enough", he said.

Nearby Panama City Beach experienced similar damage along with other communities along the shore of the Gulf of Mexico. Many survivors told of hunkering down in their homes as they were torn apart by the 150 miles per hour winds.

He got through a window of his home on to the top of his vehicle outside when Morales saw two neighbors wading through the rushing surge.

Over 940,000 US customers without power after Michael
Damaged homes are seen along the water's edge in the aftermath of hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla., Friday, Oct. 12, 2018. Search teams used dogs for people killed or trapped in debris, including in hardest-hit Mexico Beach.

"The track of the hurricane is nearly like you could name it the 'Southeast Cotton Industry Hurricane, ' because it's coming in to Panama City, and there's about 140,000 acres of cotton in the Florida Panhandle", David Ruppenicker, CEO of Southern Cotton Growers, told CNBC. "Storm surge causes the most amount of loss of life".

The devastation to the tiny towns of Mexico City and Panama City Beach was enormous - one resident said it "looked like a bomb went off" - and yet the hurricane's descent on a sparsely populated stretch of beach was credited with limiting the damage.

An insurance company that produces models for catastrophes estimated the damage at $8 billion.

Elsewhere, Donald Trump announced plans to visit Florida and Georgia early next week. An 11-year-old girl in Georgia died when Michael's winds picked up a carport and dropped it through the roof of her grandparents' home. State and local officials previously said a man in the state was killed Thursday when a tree fell on his auto in Iredell County.

Six people are dead in the storm's path, and authorities fear the toll could climb higher as search-and-rescue efforts continue. Unlike many storms, which form off the coast of Africa, Michael organized in the Caribbean, giving forecasters less time to track it before it made landfall.

"We try to fly through the storms as much as we can", said Matyas, of the University of Florida. Nine people had to be rescued by helicopter from a bathroom of a home in hard-hit Panama City after their roof collapsed, Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronald Hodges said.

Authorities said about 285 of Mexico Beach's 1,000 residents failed to heed the mandatory evacuation order.

Now they have the grim task of accounting for all who stayed behind.

The rescue came just hours after Hurricane Michael ripped through Florida's Panhandle, almost wiping out Panama City and Mexico Beach. "That's probably ground zero". But the fate of many residents was unknown.

She said search teams were going door-to-door looking for possible storm victims who may have been trapped or killed. The woman lived in a small cinderblock house about 150 yards (meters) from the Gulf and thought she would be OK.

"But you know what ... it's just stuff, it's just stuff", she told her husband, Raoul, as they walked through the ruins.

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