Hur­ri­cane res­cue ef­forts hin­dered as death toll rises

The Globe and Mail Metro (Ontario Edition) - - NEWS - ROD NICKEL

The death toll from Hur­ri­cane Michael rose to 17 across four states on Fri­day, law-en­force­ment of­fi­cials said, as res­cue crews ham­pered by com­mu­ni­ca­tions fail­ures searched the hard­est-hit com­mu­ni­ties in the Florida Pan­han­dle. Searchers found one per­son dead in the rub­ble of Mex­ico Beach, said Joseph Zahral­ban, Mi­ami’s fire chief and the task-force leader of a search and res­cue unit. Three ad­di­tional deaths were re­ported in Mar­i­anna, in Jackson County, Fla., Sher­iff Lou Roberts told a news con­fer­ence on Fri­day af­ter­noon.

The num­ber of fa­tal­i­ties was ex­pected to rise fur­ther as res­cuers go door to door and comb through the rub­ble in ocean­front com­mu­ni­ties such as Mex­ico Beach, Port St. Joe and Panama City that bore the brunt of the storm’s wrath.

“I think you’re go­ing to see it climb,” Brock Long, ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency (FEMA), said of the death count. “We still haven’t got­ten into some of the hard­est-hit ar­eas.”

The dead in­clude at least eight peo­ple in Florida, five in Vir­ginia, three in North Carolina and one in Ge­or­gia.

FEMA crews have been us­ing bull­doz­ers and other heavy equip­ment to push a path through de­bris to al­low res­cuers to probe the rub­ble with snif­fer dogs.

Michael blew ashore near the small Florida Pan­han­dle town of

Mex­ico Beach on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon as one of the most pow­er­ful storms in U.S. his­tory, with winds up to 250 kilo­me­tres an hour. It pushed a wall of sea­wa­ter in­land, caus­ing wide­spread flood­ing.

The storm, which in fewer than two days grew from a trop­i­cal storm to a Cat­e­gory 4 hur­ri­cane on the five-step Saf­firSimp­son scale, tore apart en­tire neigh­bour­hoods in the Pan­han­dle, re­duc­ing 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 ser­vice un­til late in the day on Fri­day, mak­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­ter­nally and with the pub­lic dif­fi­cult.

“We didn’t have any­thing. We’ve been writ­ing things down on pieces of pa­per,” said Ruth Cor­ley, a spokes­woman for the Bay County Sher­iff’s De­part­ment. “We’re do­ing what we can with the min­i­mal me­dia that we have.”

She said lo­cal tele­vi­sion sta­tions were knocked off the air for two days, and that author­i­ties were re­ly­ing on the ra­dio sta­tion of the Gulf Coast State Col­lege to broad­cast public­ser­vice bul­letins.

Ex­cept for the emer­gency-911 sys­tem, author­i­ties in [Florida’s]

Bay County, the epi­cen­tre of the hur­ri­cane dis­as­ter, were vir­tu­ally with­out tele­phone or in­ter­net ser­vice un­til late in the day on Fri­day …

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