Hur­ri­cane kills at least six, res­cue teams strug­gle to reach dev­as­tated ar­eas Michael leaves trail of de­struc­tion

Weekend Herald - - World - Jay Reeves in Panama City

The dev­as­ta­tion in­flicted by Hur­ri­cane Michael came into fo­cus yes­ter­day with rows upon rows of homes found smashed to pieces, and res­cue crews strug­gling to en­ter stricken ar­eas in hopes of ac­count­ing for hun­dreds of peo­ple who may have stayed be­hind.

At least six deaths were blamed on Michael, the most pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane to hit the con­ti­nen­tal United States in more than 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 clear blue sky, fam­i­lies liv­ing along the Florida Pan­han­dle emerged from shel­ters and ho­tels to a per­ilous land­scape of shat­tered homes and shop­ping cen­tres, wail­ing sirens and hov­er­ing he­li­copters.

Gover­nor Rick Scott said the Pan­han­dle awoke 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 with roads blocked by de­bris or wa­ter. A 130km stretch of In­ter­state

10, the main east-west route, was closed.

Video from a drone re­vealed some of the worst dam­age in Mex­ico Beach, where the hur­ri­cane crashed ashore on Thurs­day as a Cat­e­gory 4 mon­ster with 250km/h winds and a storm surge of 3m.

En­tire blocks of homes near the beach were oblit­er­ated, leav­ing con­crete slabs in the sand. Rows and rows of other homes were ren­dered piles of splin­tered lum­ber. En­tire roofs were torn away in the town of about

1000 peo­ple.

State of­fi­cials said 285 peo­ple in Mex­ico Beach had de­fied a manda­tory evac­u­a­tion order ahead of Michael. More than 375,000 peo­ple up and down the Gulf Coast were or­dered or urged to clear out as Michael closed in. But emer­gency au­thor­i­ties lamented that many ig­nored the warn­ings.

Na­tional Guard troops made their way into the ground-zero town and found 20 sur­vivors on Thurs­day, and more res­cue crews ar­rived yes­ter­day. But the fate of many res­i­dents was un­known.

Mishelle McPher­son and her ex­hus­band searched for the elderly mother of a friend. The woman lived in a small cin­derblock house about 150m from the Gulf and thought she would be okay. The home was found smashed, with no sign of the woman.

Linda Mar­quardt, 67, rode out the storm with her hus­band at their home in Mex­ico Beach. When the house filled with storm surge wa­ter, they fled up­stairs. “All of my fur­ni­ture was float­ing,” she said.

“A river just started com­ing down the road. It was aw­ful, and now there’s just noth­ing left.”

As thou­sands of Na­tional Guard troops, law en­force­ment of­fi­cers and med­i­cal teams spread out, the Gover­nor pleaded with peo­ple in the dev­as­tated ar­eas to stay away be­cause of haz­ards such as fallen trees and power lines. “We have to make sure things are safe,” he said.

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’s land­fall, mostly from coastal homes. Nine peo­ple had to be res­cued by he­li­copter from the bath­room of a home in hard-hit Panama City af­ter their roof col­lapsed.

In Panama City, most homes were still stand­ing, but no prop­erty was left un­dam­aged. Downed power lines and twisted street signs lay all around. Roofs had been peeled off. Pine trees were stripped and snapped.

The hur­ri­cane also dam­aged hos­pi­tals and nurs­ing homes in the Panama City area, and of­fi­cials worked to evac­u­ate hun­dreds of pa­tients.

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. All phone com­mu­ni­ca­tion was cut off to the com­plex of nearly 1000 res­i­dents and more than 300 staff, leav­ing emer­gency ra­dios as their only link out.

As the storm charged north, it spun off pos­si­ble tor­na­does and downed power lines and trees in Ge­or­gia. Fore­cast­ers said it could drop up to 20cm of rain over the Caroli­nas and Vir­ginia be­fore push­ing out to sea.

Fore­cast­ers said Michael was still a potent trop­i­cal storm yes­ter­day. It was rac­ing to the north­east amid warn­ings it could spread dam­ag­ing winds and more flash flood­ing in the re­gion be­fore mov­ing off­shore. AP

Photo / AP

Some of the worst dam­age was in Mex­ico Beach, where Michael crashed ashore on Thurs­day as a Cat­e­gory 4 hur­ri­cane with 250km/h winds.

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