Pan­han­dle town left in splin­ters

Mex­ico Beach as­sesses di­rect hit by hur­ri­cane

Boston Herald - - NEWS -

MEX­ICO BEACH, Fla. — The small Gulf Coast com­mu­nity of Mex­ico Beach was known as a slice of Old Flor­ida.

Now it lies in splin­ters. Hit head-on by Hur­ri­cane Michael, homes in this town of about 1,190 peo­ple were shat­tered or ripped from their foun­da­tions. Boats were tossed like toys. The streets clos­est to the wa­ter looked as if a bomb had gone off.

What the 9-foot storm surge didn’t de­stroy, the 155 mph winds fin­ished off.

Now, res­cuers and res­i­dents are strug­gling to get into the ground-zero town to as­sess the dam­age and search for the hun­dreds of peo­ple be­lieved to have stayed be­hind.

Mishelle McPher­son and her ex-hus­band looked for the el­derly mother of a friend yes­ter­day. The woman lived in a small cin­derblock house about 150 yards from the Gulf and thought she would be OK.

Her home was re­duced to crum­bled cin­derblocks and pieces of floor tile.

“Aggy! Aggy!” McPher­son yelled. The only sound that came back was the echo from the half-de­mol­ished build­ing and the pound­ing of the surf.

“Do you think her body would be here? Do you think it would have floated away?” she asked.

As she walked down the street, McPher­son pointed out pieces of what had been the woman’s house: “That’s the blade from her ceil­ing fan. That’s her floor tile.”

Drone footage of Mex­ico Beach yes­ter­day morn­ing showed a stun­ning land­scape of dev­as­ta­tion. Few struc­tures were un­scathed. John Humphress, a storm chaser and drone pilot, ar­rived in Mex­ico Beach at about 5 p.m. Wed­nes­day, a few hours af­ter Michael slammed into the coast­line. He had one word to de­scribe what he saw: “Apoc­a­lyp­tic.”

State of­fi­cials said 285 peo­ple in Mex­ico Beach had re­fused to leave ahead of the hur­ri­cane de­spite a manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­der.

A Na­tional Guard team went into the area and found 20 sur­vivors overnight, and more crews were push­ing into the area yes­ter­day. The fate of many other res­i­dents was un­known, au­thor­i­ties said.

Humphress, who spent the night in his truck on a bridge near Mex­ico Beach, said he didn’t see any­one dead.

Yes­ter­day, res­i­dents who evac­u­ated tried to re­turn.

A Flor­ida hur­ri­cane ex­pert said the footage of build­ings in Mex­ico Beach stripped to their con­crete foun­da­tions was no sur­prise.

“This is what we ex­pect with storm surge and high wind events,” said Craig Fu­gate, former di­rec­tor of the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency and a former emer­gency man­age­ment chief for the state of Flor­ida.

Flor­ida has some of the most strin­gent hur­ri­cane build­ing codes in the coun­try, but they ap­ply only to new or retro­fit­ted struc­tures.

Mex­ico Beach is on the west end of what’s called Flor­ida’s For­got­ten Coast, so named be­cause it is not heav­ily de­vel­oped like many of the state’s other shore­line ar­eas, with their lav­ish homes and high-rise con­dos and ho­tels.

U.S. Route 98 runs right along the coast, where a few beach­side res­tau­rants of­fer oys­ters and other seafood, cock­tails and a view of the Gulf of Mex­ico.

AP PHO­TOS

RU­INS: Tony Feller, right, who stayed in Mex­ico Beach, Fla., dur­ing the hur­ri­cane, sits among the rub­ble, above.

DEV­AS­TA­TION: De­stroyed homes lit­ter the main street of Mex­ico Beach af­ter Hur­ri­cane Michael swept through.

GONE: Mishelle McPher­son, climbs over the rub­ble of a friend’s home.

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