‘Everything’s gone’: Hurricane wipes out U.S. town
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.
Damaged boats sit among debris in a marina in the aftermath of hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla., on Friday.