Hurricane kills at least six, rescue teams struggle to reach devastated areas Michael leaves trail of destruction
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
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
Some of the worst damage was in Mexico Beach, where Michael crashed ashore on Thursday as a Category 4 hurricane with 250km/h winds.