RE­COV­ERY BE­GINS

Florid­i­ans pick up af­ter Hur­ri­cane Michael

Albuquerque Journal - - FRONT PAGE - BY LUZ LAZO, MARK BER­MAN, EMILY WAX-THIBODEAUX AND KEVIN SUL­LI­VAN

SPRING­FIELD, Fla. — En­tire ocean­front com­mu­ni­ties in the Flor­ida Pan­han­dle were vir­tu­ally oblit­er­ated, an Air Force base suf­fered “cat­a­strophic” dam­age and at least six peo­ple were killed by Hur­ri­cane Michael, a suck­er­punch of a storm that now ranks as one of the four most pow­er­ful hur­ri­canes ever to strike the United States.

“This one just looks like a bomb dropped,” said Clyde Cain, who is with the Lou­i­si­ana Ca­jun Navy, a group of vol­un­teer search-an­dres­cue teams that went to Flor­ida to help in Michael’s wake, just as they did last month dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Florence in the Caroli­nas.

Michael was down­graded to a trop­i­cal storm Thurs­day as it sped north­east through Ge­or­gia and the Caroli­nas on a path out into the At­lantic Ocean. But its rel­a­tively short as­sault on Flor­ida’s Gulf Coast was dev­as­tat­ing.

Tiny Mex­ico Beach, Fla., a town of about 1,000 res­i­dents, ap­peared to be have been al­most de­stroyed by Michael’s 155 mph im­pact — just 1 mph short of a Cat­e­gory 5 storm. Aerial footage showed much of the seaside en­clave re­duced to kin­dling, trees sheared off just above the ground, tan­gles of power lines strewn in the streets, and cars and boats piled up like rub­bish. En­tire blocks seemed empty, with houses and ev­ery­thing else that had been on them smashed by storm surge and wind, and pre­sum­ably washed out to sea.

“This is not stuff that you just put back to­gether overnight,” said Wil­liam “Brock” Long, ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency.

Of­fi­cial states of emer­gency were de­clared in Alabama, Ge­or­gia, and as far north as the Caroli­nas and Vir­ginia, which are still reel­ing from the dev­as­tat­ing floods of Florence. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple re­mained with­out power late Thurs­day across the South­east, and some ar­eas were essen­tially cut off more than 24 hours af­ter Michael made land­fall, with roads blocked by mas­sive trees and cell­phone ser­vice out.

The rain and wind from the storm caused flood­ing and power out­ages in Vir­ginia cities along the North Carolina bor­der and in the cen­tral part of the state. Nearly 145,000 Vir­gini­ans were with­out power Thurs­day evening, ac­cord­ing to the state’s De­part­ment of Emer­gency Man­age­ment.

Cur­tis Lo­cus, a Flor­ida De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion worker, said the dam­age he has seen across the Pan­han­dle is un­prece­dented.

“This was a com­mu­nity in the mid­dle of the for­est. Now the for­est is gone, and so is the com­mu­nity,” Lo­cus said. “… This is Party Town, USA. Now it’s Dev­as­tated Town, USA. Ev­ery­thing along the coast­line was dev­as­tated like a war zone.”

In Spring­field and nearby Panama City, apart­ment build­ings are roof­less, gas sta­tion awnings are twisted be­yond recog­ni­tion, busi­nesses col­lapsed, me­tal posts as thick as tree trucks were folded in half, and bill­boards were blown onto homes or crushed cars.

“We didn’t fig­ure it was go­ing to be this bad,” said Mike Davis, 56, sit­ting on the side­walk out­side Oa­sis Liquor, a store on Panama City’s 15th Street, star­ing dully at the de­bris around him. “This is dev­as­tat­ing.”

“They ain’t go­ing to fix this overnight,” he said. “It’s go­ing to take a long time.”

GER­ALD HER­BERT /AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Res­cue per­son­nel search among the wreck­age in Mex­ico Beach, Fla., on Thurs­day. State of­fi­cials said 285 peo­ple in the town of about 1,000 de­fied a manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­der.

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