‘Ev­ery­thing’s gone’: Hur­ri­cane wipes out U.S. town

The Niagara Falls Review - - Canada & World - RUSS BYNUM AND BREN­DAN FAR­RING­TON

MEX­ICO BEACH, FLA. — Searc­hand-res­cue teams be­gan find­ing bodies in and around Mex­ico Beach, the ground-zero town nearly oblit­er­ated by hur­ri­cane Michael.

Mi­ami Fire Chief Joseph Zahral­ban, leader of a search-an­dres­cue unit that went into the flat­tened town, said: “There are in­di­vid­u­als who are de­ceased. We do not have a count, but we are work­ing to iden­tify them.”

The death toll across the South stood at 13, not count­ing any vic­tims in Mex­ico Beach.

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 al­most wiped off the map when Michael blew ashore there Wednesday with dev­as­tat­ing 250 km/h winds.

Blocks and blocks of homes were de­mol­ished, re­duced to splin­tered lum­ber or mere con­crete slabs by the most pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane to hit the con­ti­nen­tal U.S. in nearly 50 years.

As the catastrophic dam­age across the Florida Pan­han­dle came into view, there was lit­tle doubt the death toll would rise.

How high it might go was un­clear. 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. Whether any of them got out at some point was un­clear.

Emer­gency of­fi­cials said they have re­ceived thou­sands of calls ask­ing about miss­ing peo­ple.

But with cell­phone ser­vice out across vast swaths of the Florida Pan­han­dle, of­fi­cials said it is pos­si­ble that some of those un­ac­counted for are safe and just haven’t been able to contact friends or fam­ily.

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.

Res­i­dents be­gan to come to grips with the de­struc­tion and face up to the un­cer­tainty that lies ahead.

“I didn’t rec­og­nize noth­ing. Ev­ery­thing’s gone. I didn’t even know our road was our road,” saidTif­fany Marie Plush­nik, 25, 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,” Plush­nik said.

DAVID GOLD­MAN THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Dam­aged boats sit among de­bris in a marina in the af­ter­math of hur­ri­cane Michael in Panama City, Fla., on Fri­day.

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