Florida’s roads re­open, cell ser­vice slowly re­turns

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - REGION - BY EL­IZ­A­BETH KOH MI­AMI HER­ALD (TNS)

Af­ter a bru­tal bat­ter­ing this week from Hur­ri­cane Michael, res­cuers and sup­plies con­tin­ued to flow into the most af­fected re­gions as the Florida Pan­han­dle be­gan to clear the first cru­cial 72 hours since the storm struck.

State of­fi­cials said Satur­day morn­ing that search and res­cue crews were now half­way through a more thor­ough, “sec­ondary” push — in­volv­ing search­ing through rub­ble with dogs and lis­ten­ing equip­ment, and “shoring up” some col­lapsed build­ings — to find the in­jured or dead in the storm’s wreck­age.

Of­fi­cials said Fri­day they had searched about 25,000 struc­tures and res­cued nearly 200 peo­ple.

Lo­cal and state au­thor­i­ties also col­lec­tively con­firmed at least eight deaths re­lated to Michael by Satur­day: three in Jack­son County, four in Gads­den County and one in Clay County. But that count does not in­clude Panama City and Mex­ico Beach, which were hard­est hit.

In ru­ral re­gions such as heav­ily forested Jack­son and Gads­den coun­ties, trucks also con­tin­ued to bring in sup­plies by ground af­ter roads be­gan to be cleared Thurs­day. Sev­eral roads west had re­opened be­fore the week­end, in­clud­ing In­ter­state 10 and High­way 90, and state emer­gency of­fi­cials said Satur­day they ex­pected High­way 20 to re­open soon as con­di­tions around it re­ceded to mi­nor flood­ing.

And as trucks be­gan to cart in sup­plies on ru­ral, de­bris-clogged roads to places like Marianna and Chat­ta­hoochee, state of­fi­cials said they also were try­ing to bol­ster com­mu­ni­ca­tion across the Pan­han­dle by help­ing im­prove cel­lu­lar ser­vice.

Cell-sig­nal cov­er­age had risen to 80 per­cent across the re­gion by Satur­day morn­ing. Thou­sands of peo­ple had been re­ported miss­ing to lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, the Red Cross and the state, but of­fi­cials said they hoped those num­bers would de­cline some­what as cell ser­vice im­proved and peo­ple could con­tact loved ones.

Of­fi­cials also were able to, for the first time since the storm, co­or­di­nate a call “with all of our com­mu­ni­ties at the same time” Satur­day to dis­cuss re­cov­ery and re­sponse.

Nearly 248,000 re­mained with­out power as of Satur­day evening, though places less af­fected by the storm like Tal­la­has­see re­ported that more than two-thirds of cus­tomers had elec­tric­ity.

Four more coun­ties were also added to parts of the state’s dis­as­ter dec­la­ra­tion overnight.

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