Hur­ri­cane vic­tims won­der ‘What’s next?’

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - FRONT PAGE - BY RUSS BYNUM AND BREN­DAN FAR­RING­TON

Hec­tor Mo­rales sits Fri­day on a de­bris pile near his home which was de­stroyed by hur­ri­cane Michael in Mex­ico Beach, Fla. “I have noth­ing else to do. I’m just wait­ing,” said Mo­rales as he won­dered what comes next. “I lost ev­ery­thing.”

MEX­ICO BEACH, Fla. — Res­cuers in­ten­si­fied ef­forts Satur­day to find sur­vivors who might be trapped amid the ru­ins of a small Florida Pan­han­dle com­mu­nity nearly oblit­er­ated by Hur­ri­cane Michael, where one body has al­ready been re­cov­ered, tem­pers are flar­ing, and the elec­tric util­ity is warn­ing that power could be out for weeks.

Crews with dogs went doorto-door in Mex­ico Beach and pushed aside de­bris to get in­side badly dam­aged struc­tures in a sec­ond wave of searches fol­low­ing what they de­scribed as an ini­tial, “hasty” search of the area.

Au­thor­i­ties say there is lit­tle doubt the death toll will rise from the storm, which made land­fall Wed­nes­day as a Cat­e­gory 4 hur­ri­cane with 155 mph winds and heavy storm surge. The tally of lives lost across the South stood at 14, in­clud­ing the vic­tim found in the rub­ble of Mex­ico Beach, where about 1,000 peo­ple live.

“Ev­ery­thing is time con­sum­ing,” said Capt. Ig­natius Car­roll, of the South Florida Ur­ban Search and Res­cue task force. “You don’t want to put a rush on a thor­ough res­cue.”

More roads were pass­able along the storm-rav­aged coast as crews cleared downed trees and power lines, but traf­fic lights re­mained out and long lines height­ened ten­sions at one of the area’s few open gas sta­tions.

“I want you to get back in your ve­hi­cle and stop!” one woman shouted at a man ac­cost­ing her as she tried to squeeze her car be­tween two idling ve­hi­cles at a Panama City ser­vice sta­tion run­ning two fuel pumps on a gen­er­a­tor.

“You’re an id­iot!” the man shouted back.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has called up 4,000 mem­bers of the state’s na­tional guard to deal with the af­ter­math of the deadly storm, adding 500 more on Satur­day, and nearly 2,000 law-en­force­ment of­fi­cials have been sent into the Pan­han­dle.

Schools will stay closed in­def­i­nitely, a hos­pi­tal halted op­er­a­tions and sent 200 pa­tients to hos­pi­tals else­where in Florida and in Alabama, and more than 253,000 cus­tomers in the Pan­han­dle re­main with­out power.

Some res­i­dents were pack­ing up and get­ting as far away as they could.

Jeff and Ka­t­rina Pearsey, with a ru­ined ren­tal home in the Panama City area and no in­di­ca­tion of when they could again earn a liv­ing, said they were head­ing to Ban­gor, Maine, where Ka­t­rina once worked as a nurse. Sev­eral trees came down on their prop­erty, in­clud­ing one that smashed through the roof.

“We’re get­ting our stuff and we’re go­ing,” said Jeff Pearsey, 48. “We’re prob­a­bly done with Panama City.”

Michael was one of the most pow­er­ful hur­ri­canes to ever make land­fall in the U.S. While most res­i­dents fled ahead of the storm’s ar­rival, oth­ers stayed to face the hur­ri­cane. Some barely es­caped with their lives as homes were pushed off their foun­da­tions and whole neigh­bor­hoods be­came sub­merged.

Hec­tor Mo­rales, a 57-yearold restau­rant cook, never even thought of evac­u­at­ing. His mo­bile home wasn’t on the beach but when it sud­denly be­gan float­ing dur­ing the hur­ri­cane, he jumped out and swam to a fish­ing boat and clam­bered aboard.

“I lost ev­ery­thing,” Mo­rales said. “But I made it.”

How many oth­ers were not so for­tu­nate was still not clear. By one count, state of­fi­cials said, 285 peo­ple in Mex­ico Beach de­fied manda­tory evac­u­a­tion orders and stayed be­hind. It’s un­clear how many peo­ple stayed be­hind in nearby com­mu­ni­ties.

One who did, Al­bert Black­well, was pre­par­ing on Satur­day to cover holes in the roof of his apart­ment and take a chain saw to trees that fell and broke his win­dows just out­side Panama City.

“I’m the id­iot that rode it out here in this place,” said Black­well, 65, sweat drip­ping from his face. He doesn’t plan to leave; he wants to pro­tect his home from loot­ers.

Emer­gency of­fi­cials said they’ve re­ceived thou­sands of calls ask­ing about miss­ing peo­ple, but with cell­phone ser­vice out across a wide area, they found it im­pos­si­ble to know who among those un­ac­counted for were safe but just un­able to dial out to friends or fam­ily.

Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency chief Brock Long said he ex­pected the death toll to rise. Searchers were try­ing to de­ter­mine if the per­son found dead in Mex­ico Beach had been alone or was part of a fam­ily.

Au­thor­i­ties have set up dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ters to dole out food and wa­ter to vic­tims. They’ve also set up a triage tent to treat res­i­dents step­ping on nails and cut­ting them­selves on de­bris.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump an­nounced plans to visit Florida and hard-hit Ge­or­gia early next week but didn’t say what day he would ar­rive. On Satur­day he ap­proved fed­eral dis­as­ter aid re­lief for four Alabama coun­ties af­fected by the storm.

“We are with he tweeted. you!”

AP PHOTO/DAVID GOLD­MAN

MICHAEL SNY­DER/NORTH­WEST FLORIDA DAILY NEWS VIA AP

Gulf Power crews line the street in Panama City, Fla., Fri­day, as they try to re­store power af­ter tens of thou­sands were left with­out elec­tric­ity by Hur­ri­cane Michael.

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