‘Un­be­liev­able de­struc­tion’

Storm leaves be­hind rows upon rows of smashed houses as it pushes out of Flor­ida

North Bay Nugget - - WORLD NEWS - Jay reeves and Bren­dan Far­ring­ton

Panama city, Fla. — the dev­as­ta­tion in­flicted by hur­ri­cane Michael came into fo­cus thurs­day with rows upon rows of homes found smashed to pieces, as res­cue crews be­gan mak­ing their way into the stricken ar­eas in hopes of ac­count­ing for hun­dreds of peo­ple who may have de­fied evac­u­a­tion or­ders.

at least two deaths were blamed on Michael, the most pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane to hit the con­ti­nen­tal u.s. in over 50 years, and it wasn’t done yet. though re­duced to a trop­i­cal storm, it brought flash flood­ing to North carolina and Vir­ginia, soak­ing ar­eas still re­cov­er­ing from hur­ri­cane Florence.

un­der a per­fectly clear blue sky, fam­i­lies liv­ing along the Flor­ida Pan­han­dle emerged ten­ta­tively from dark­ened shel­ters and ho­tels to a per­ilous land­scape of shat­tered homes and shop­ping cen­tres, beep­ing se­cu­rity alarms, wail­ing sirens and hov­er­ing he­li­copters.

gov. rick Scott said the Pan­han­dle woke up to “unimag­in­able de­struc­tion.”

“So many lives have been changed for­ever. So many fam­i­lies have lost ev­ery­thing,” he said.

the full ex­tent of Michael’s fury was only slowly be­com­ing clear, with some of the hard­est-hit ar­eas dif­fi­cult to reach be­cause of roads blocked by de­bris or wa­ter. a 130km stretch of in­ter­state 10, the main east-west route along the Pan­han­dle, was closed.

Some of the worst dam­age was in Mex­ico beach, where the hur­ri­cane crashed ashore Wed­nes­day as a cat­e­gory 4 mon­ster with 250 km/h winds and a storm surge of 2.7 me­tres. Video from a drone re­vealed widespread dev­as­ta­tion across the town of about 1,000 peo­ple.

en­tire blocks of homes near the beach were oblit­er­ated, re­duced to noth­ing but con­crete slabs in the sand. rows and rows of other homes were turned into piles of splin­tered lum­ber or were crum­pled and slumped at odd an­gles. en­tire roofs were torn away and dropped onto a road. boats were tossed ashore like toys.

a Na­tional guard team got into Mex­ico beach and found 20 sur­vivors overnight, and more crews were push­ing into the area in the morn­ing, with the fate of many res­i­dents un­known, au­thor­i­ties said. State of­fi­cials said 285 peo­ple in Mex­ico beach had re­fused to leave ahead of the hur­ri­cane de­spite a manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­der.

Mishelle Mcpher­son and her ex­hus­band searched for the el­derly mother of a friend. the woman lived in a small cin­derblock house about 140 me­tres from the gulf and thought she would be OK.

her home was re­duced to crum­bled cin­derblocks and pieces of floor tile.

“aggy! aggy!” Mcpher­son yelled. the only sound that came back was the echo from the half-de­mol­ished build­ing and the pound­ing of the surf. “do you think her body would be here? do you think it would have floated away?” she asked.

as she walked down the street, Mcpher­son pointed out pieces of what had been the woman’s house: “that’s the blade from her ceil­ing fan. that’s her floor tile.”

the gov­er­nor pleaded with peo­ple in the dev­as­tated ar­eas to stay away for now be­cause of fallen trees, power lines and other de­bris.

“i know you just want to go home. you want to check on things and be­gin the re­cov­ery process,” Scott said. but “we have to make sure things are safe.”

More than 900,000 homes and busi­nesses in Flor­ida, alabama, ge­or­gia and the caroli­nas were with­out power.

the coast guard said it res­cued at least 27 peo­ple be­fore and af­ter the hur­ri­cane came ashore, mostly from homes along the Flor­ida coast­line, and searched for more vic­tims.

among those brought to safety were nine peo­ple res­cued by he­li­copter from a bath­room of their home in Panama city, an­other one of the hard­est-hit spots, af­ter their roof col­lapsed, Petty Of­fi­cer 3rd class ron­ald hodges said.

in Panama city, most homes were still stand­ing, but no prop­erty was left un­dam­aged. downed power lines lay nearly ev­ery­where. roofs had been peeled off and car­ried away. alu­minum sid­ing was shred­ded to rib­bons. homes were split open by fallen trees.

hun­dreds of cars had bro­ken win­dows. twisted street signs lay on the ground. Pine trees were stripped and snapped off.

the hur­ri­cane also dam­aged hos­pi­tals and nurs­ing homes in the Panama city area, and of­fi­cials worked to evac­u­ate hun­dreds of pa­tients. the dam­age at bay Med­i­cal Sa­cred heart in­cluded blown-out win­dows, a cracked ex­te­rior wall and a roof col­lapse in a main­te­nance build­ing. No pa­tients were hurt, the hos­pi­tal said.

the state men­tal hos­pi­tal in chat­ta­hoochee, which has a sec­tion for the crim­i­nally in­sane, was cut off by land, and food and sup­plies were be­ing flown in, au­thor­i­ties said.

a man out­side tal­la­has­see, Flor­ida, was killed by a fall­ing tree, and an 11-year-old girl in ge­or­gia died when the winds picked up a car­port and dropped it on her home. One of the car­port’s legs punc­tured the roof and hit her in the head.

Fore­cast­ers said Michael could drop up to 180 mm of rain over the caroli­nas and Vir­ginia be­fore push­ing out to sea thurs­day night. in North carolina’s moun­tains, mo­torists had to be res­cued from cars trapped by high wa­ter.

Ger­ald her­bert/the As­so­ci­ated Press

Mishelle Mcpher­son looks for her friend’s mother in the rub­ble of her home, since the woman stayed be­hind in her home dur­ing hur­ri­cane Michael, in Mex­ico Beach, Fla., on Thurs­day.

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