Body found in search of hurricane-stricken town – official
Mexico Beach was nearly wiped off the map when Hurricane Michael blew ashore on Wednesday.
Search-and-rescue teams found at least one body in Mexico Beach, the ground-zero town nearly obliterated by Hurricane Michael, an official has said.
The death toll across the South stood at 14 including the victim discovered in Mexico Beach.
Miami Fire Chief Joseph Zahralban, leader of a search-and-rescue unit that went into the flattened town, said: “We have one confirmed deceased and are working to determine if there are others.”
Mr Zahralban said searchers were trying to determine if that person had been alone or was part of a family.
Mr Zahralban spoke as his team — which included a dog — was winding down its two-day search of Mexico Beach, the town of about 1,000 people that was nearly wiped off the map when Michael blew ashore there on Wednesday with devastating 155 mph winds.
Rows and rows of homes were demolished, reduced to splintered lumber or mere concrete slabs by the most powerful hurricane to hit the continental US in nearly 50 years.
As the catastrophic damage across the Florida Panhandle came into view 48 hours after the hurricane struck, there was little doubt the death toll would rise.
But authorities scrapped plans to set up a temporary morgue, suggesting they had yet to see mass casualties.
State officials said that by one count, 285 people in Mexico Beach defied mandatory evacuation orders and stayed behind.
Some of them successfully rode out the storm. It was unclear how many of the others might have got out at the last minute.
Emergency officials said they have received thousands of calls asking about missing people.
But with mobile service out across vast swaths of the Florida Panhandle, officials said it is possible that some of those unaccounted for are safe and just have not been able to contact friends or family.
Comms are key! #Soldiers from our 146th Expeditionary Signal Battalion are setting up tactical satellite terminals to provide county Emergency Operations Centers with internet & phone so they can connect sooner with #Florida citizens in need. #HurricaneMichael #FLNGAlwaysThere pic.twitter.com/l0CTaeyTwn— FloridaNationalGuard (@FLGuard) October 12, 2018
Across the ravaged region, meanwhile, authorities set up distribution centres to hand out food and water to victims.
Some supplies were brought in by trucks, while others had to be delivered by helicopter because of debris still blocking roads.
Residents began to come to grips with the destruction and face up to the uncertainty that lies ahead.
“I didn’t recognise nothing. Everything’s gone. I didn’t even know our road was our road,” said 25-year-old Tiffany Marie Plushnik, an evacuee who returned to find her home in Sandy Creek too damaged to live in.
When she went back to the hotel where she took shelter from the storm, she found out she could no longer stay there either because of mould.
“We’ve got to figure something out. We’re starting from scratch, all of us,” Ms Plushnik said.
President Donald Trump announced plans to visit Florida and hard-hit Georgia early next week but did not say what day he would arrive.
“We are with you!” he tweeted.
Shell-shocked survivors who barely escaped with their lives told of terrifying winds, surging floodwaters and homes cracking apart.
Emergency officials said they had completed an initial “hasty search” of the stricken area, looking for the living or the dead, and had begun more careful inspections of thousands of ruined buildings. They said nearly 200 people had been rescued.
Governor Rick Scott said state officials still “do not know enough” about the fate of those who stayed behind in the region.
“We are not completely done. We are still getting down there,” the governor added.
We will use every resource we can as we recover from the destruction Hurricane Michael left in its wake. We will not waver, and we will not stop fighting. We will recover, and we will do it by working together. pic.twitter.com/ASDu0WfGPs— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) October 12, 2018
Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long said he expects to see the death toll rise.
“We still haven’t gotten into the hardest-hit areas,” he said, adding: “Very few people live to tell what it’s like to experience storm surge, and unfortunately in this country we seem to not learn the lesson.”
Mr Long expressed worry that people have suffered “hurricane amnesia”.
“When state and local officials tell you to get out, dang it, do it. Get out,” he said.
On the Panhandle, Tyndall Air Force Base “took a beating”, so much so that Colonel Brian Laidlaw told the 3,600 men and women stationed on the base not to come back.
Many of the 600 families who live there had followed orders to pack what they could in a single suitcase as they were evacuated ahead of the storm.
The hurricane’s eyewall passed directly overhead, severely damaging nearly every building and leaving many a complete loss.
“I will not recall you and your families until we can guarantee your safety. At this time I can’t tell you how long that will take, but I’m on it,” Col Laidlaw wrote.
“We need to restore basic utilities, clear our roads of trees and power lines, and assess the structural integrity of our buildings.”