Hurricane death toll on rise
Rescue crews scouring hardest-hit communities
MEXICO BEACH: The death toll from Hurricane Michael has risen to 18 across four US states as rescuers hampered by communications failures searched the hardest-hit towns in the Florida Panhandle.
The toll was expected to rise as rescuers go door to door and comb through the rubble in beachfront communities such as Mexico Beach, Port St Joe and Panama City, which bore the brunt of the storm’s wrath.
Those killed were in Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia and hundreds of people remain missing.
Federal Emergency Management Agency crews have been using earthmovers to push a path through debris to allow rescuers and sniffer dogs to search through the rubble.
Michael blew ashore near Mexico Beach on Wednesday as one of the most powerful storms in US history, with winds of up 250km/h. It pushed seawater inland, causing widespread flooding.
The storm, which in less than two days grew from a tropical one to a Category 4 hurricane, reduced homes to naked concrete foundations or piles of wood and siding. Except for the emergency-911 system, authorities in Bay County, the epicentre of the hurricane disaster, were virtually without telephone or internet until yesterday, making communications with the public difficult.
Search teams have been going door-to-door in Mexico Beach and other hard-hit areas, looking for people either trapped or killed.
Bay County officials previously said 56 people had chosen to stay in their homes in Mexico Beach and that teams were trying to account for them.
Social media was filled with messages from people trying to reach missing family in Florida’s Bay and Gulf Counties.
By yesterday, the remnants of Michael had moved northeast into the Atlantic Ocean but still could bring up to 130mm of rain in New England, the National Hurricane Centre said.
About 1.5 million homes and businesses were without power yesterday, from Florida to Virginia, and it could be weeks before power is restored.
The number of people in emergency shelters was expected to swell to 20,000.