Rescuers search rubble for hurricane survivors
RESCUERS were picking through the rubble of ravaged beach communities searching for survivors yesterday after Michael, one of the most powerful hurricanes in US history, slammed into the Florida Panhandle, killing at least seven people.
Michael struck Florida’s north-west coast near the small town of Mexico Beach on Wednesday afternoon with top sustained winds of 250 kilometres per hour, pushing a wall of seawater inland and causing widespread flooding.
The storm tore entire neighbourhoods apart, reducing homes and businesses to piles of wood, damaging roads and leaving scenes of devastation that resembled the aftermath of a carpet-bombing operation.
US Army personnel used heavy equipment to push a path through debris in Mexico Beach to allow rescuers through to search for trapped residents, survivors or casualties, as Blackhawk helicopters circled overhead. Rescuers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) used dogs, drones and GPS in the search.
“We prepare for the worst and hope for the best. This is obviously the worst,” said Stephanie Palmer, a Fema firefighter and rescuer from Coral Springs, Florida.
Much of downtown Port St Joe, 19 kilometres east of Mexico Beach, was flooded after Michael snapped boats in two and hurled a large ship onto the shore, residents said.
“We had houses that were on one side of the street and now they’re on the other,” said Mayor Bo Patterson, who watched trees fly by his window as he rode out the storm in his home seven blocks from the beach.
Mr Patterson estimated 1,000 homes were completely or partially destroyed in his town of 3,500 people.
With a low barometric pressure recorded at 919 millibars, a measure of a hurricane’s force, Michael was the third strongest storm on record to hit the continental United States, behind only Hurricane Camille on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1969 and the Labour Day hurricane of 1935 in the Florida Keys.
It was toppling trees and bringing life-threatening flash flooding to areas of Georgia and Virginia, which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence, as it marched north-east.
At least seven people were killed by falling trees and other hurricane-related incidents in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, according to state officials.
Emergency services carried out dozens of rescues of people caught in swiftly moving floodwaters in North Carolina.
Almost 1.2 million homes and businesses were without power from Florida to Virginia on Thursday because of the storm.
The number of people in emergency shelters swelled to 20,000 across five states, said Brad Kieserman of the American Red Cross.
Brad Rippey, a meteorologist for the US Agriculture Department, said Michael severely damaged cotton, timber, pecan and peanut crops, causing estimated liabilities as high as $1.9 billion and affecting up to 1.5 million hectares.
Michael also disrupted energy operations in the US Gulf of Mexico as it approached land, cutting crude oil production by more than 40 per cent and natural gas output by nearly a third as offshore platforms were evacuated.
A resident looks for items to salvage from where her friend’s home once stood