HUR­RI­CANE’S DEV­AS­TAT­ING PATH

Hur­ri­cane Michael ar­rives with bru­tal force. Many sur­vivors will have to start over.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - NA­TION, A5

Homes in Mex­ico Beach, Fla., were blasted off their foun­da­tions by Hur­ri­cane Michael, which struck with 155-mph winds be­fore quickly mov­ing through Ge­or­gia and into the Caroli­nas.

MEX­ICO BEACH, Fla. — Weav­ing around the de­bris on High­way 98 in a red golf cart — dodg­ing a wash­ing ma­chine to the left and a de­tached roof to the right — Jackie Spann scanned the hori­zon for her home of 27 years, a three-story stucco house with a Span­ish-style roof.

“It’s gone,” the 83-yearold re­tired aero­space worker cried sud­denly as she neared the canal on the west side of Mex­ico Beach on the coast of Florida’s Pan­han­dle. “My house is gone.”

Hur­ri­cane Michael had made land­fall nearby less than 24 hours ear­lier, and the beach town of 1,072 peo­ple was a mass of rub­ble.

Res­i­dents across the re­gion Thurs­day strug­gled to re­cover from the dev­as­ta­tion caused by Hur­ri­cane Michael, which left more than a mil­lion peo­ple across the South­east U.S. with­out power and some com­mu­ni­ties dev­as­tated by the storm’s in­tense winds and coastal floods.

As of late Thurs­day, at least six peo­ple had been killed by the storm, the most pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane on record to hit Florida’s Pan­han­dle, and the third most­pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane on record to reach the U.S.

Four deaths had been re­ported in Gads­den County, Fla., about 40 miles in­land from where the Cat­e­gory 4 hur­ri­cane made land­fall with 155 mph winds, rav­aging the coastal cities of Panama City and Mex­ico Beach.

In Panama City, the largest coastal city near where Michael made land­fall, the storm’s winds were so in­tense that a cargo train was blown off its tracks and some struc­tures were par­tially de­mol­ished.

The winds blasted through the brick walls of a mid­dle-school gym, where a vol­ley­ball net re­mained stand­ing. The wind also punched out ev­ery let­ter of a Waf­fle House sign.

In smaller nearby Mex­ico Beach, the dam­age was even more in­tense, as some neigh­bor­hoods were washed away by a pow­er­ful storm surge that flooded the va­ca­tion com­mu­nity.

The main two lane-high­way was lit­tered with roofs, walls, doors, A/C ducts, so­fas, ar­moires, chairs, kitchen sinks. The wooden pier was gone. The roof of the Fish House had caved in. En­tire blocks of con­dos were razed.

Step­ping down from her friend’s golf cart, Spann walked gin­gerly around the canal — piled high with wooden rafters, fridges and book­cases — look­ing for her cats, Peb­bles, Lil’ Wil­lie, Rusty and Cal­lie, and her neigh­bor, David.

“Where are my cats?” she said, mak­ing her way in black flip-flops around Fi­esta plates and Pyrex bowls and clam­ber­ing on top of mounds of ply­wood and roof shin­gles. “I wish I could see a cat.”

She lin­gered as she passed her neigh­bor’s gray one-story home — the roof was torn to shreds — then trudged on.

“That was where my house was,” she said, point­ing to an empty spot with a few palm trees in front of a foun­da­tion. “What about that? My palm trees sur­vived and my house didn’t.”

Af­ter walk­ing in cir­cles around the foun­da­tion of her two-car garage, she paused for breath on her neigh­bor’s deck.

“Cal­lie!” she cried faintly, cup­ping her hands over her mouth. “Wil­lie!”

There was si­lence — ex­cept for the blare of a siren and the buzz of a mil­i­tary he­li­copter.

The weak­ened storm was on track to make an ex­pected exit into the At­lantic Ocean by Fri­day morn­ing af­ter bring­ing some in­land flood­ing across the Caroli­nas.

An 11-year-old girl was re­port­edly killed by fall­ing de­bris in Semi­nole County in south­west Ge­or­gia, where the storm main­tained hur­ri­cane strength while pass­ing through the state, dev­as­tat­ing ru­ral farm­ers’ cot­ton and pe­can crops be­fore sweep­ing through South Carolina and into North Carolina as a weaker trop­i­cal storm. An­other man was re­port­edly killed north of Char­lotte when a tree fell on his ve­hi­cle.

“Our prayers are with those who lost their lives and with their fam­i­lies, and our hearts are with the thou­sands who have sus­tained prop­erty dam­age — in many cases, en­tirely wiped out,” Pres­i­dent Trump said.

“We will do every­thing in our power to help those in need, and we will not rest or wa­ver un­til the job is done and the re­cov­ery is com­plete.”

Michael’s quick progress means it won’t have a chance to trig­ger the same wide­spread, epic flood­ing as past slow-mov­ing hur­ri­canes such as Florence and Har­vey, which un­leashed seem­ingly end­less rains af­ter stalling and hov­er­ing in­land. At min­i­mum, it left enor­mous wind and storm surge dam­age.

Florida Repub­li­can Gov. Rick Scott said a “mas­sive” ef­fort was un­der­way to clear roads that had been blocked by fallen trees, branches and power lines, ham­per­ing the ground re­sponse as aerial and wa­ter res­cue crews made con­tact with hard-tore­ach ar­eas dev­as­tated by the storm.

Tyn­dall Air Force Base, lo­cated be­tween Mex­ico Beach and Panama City, took a “di­rect hit” from Michael’s land­fall, which caused sig­nif­i­cant struc­tural dam­age and left the run­way’s use still in ques­tion, Air Force of­fi­cials said in a state­ment. The base had been evacuated be­fore the storm and no in­juries were re­ported.

The dam­age around Panama City and Mex­ico Beach was so ex­ten­sive that Bay County law en­force­ment of­fi­cials block­aded en­try for any­one who was not a re­lief worker.

In Mex­ico Beach, the city logo is two beach chairs fac­ing the ocean. The pop­u­la­tion from sea­sonal tourism some­times soars to 10,000.

“Wel­come to our hum­ble slice of par­adise!” the city says on its web­site. “No words are needed to ex­plain the laid back, easy-go­ing at­ti­tude that is our com­mu­nity.”

Adrian Welle, 33, the town’s city clerk who had knocked on doors the af­ter­noon be­fore the hur­ri­cane hit, said about 100 house­holds had planned to ride out the storm.

One of them was Tom Bai­ley, the town’s for­mer mayor, who took shel­ter un­der­neath his house as the winds blew off his shin­gles and ripped off the ply­wood and roof­ing rafters.

“The whole house got whipped,” the 66-year-old re­tired Army of­fi­cer said as he stood on 37th Street, sur­vey­ing the dam­age and point­ing to empty blocks of rub­ble that used to be packed with beach con­dos.

Af­ter ped­al­ing around town on his beach cruiser, check­ing his friends’ homes and sur­vey­ing the dam­age, Bai­ley had lit­tle good news to re­port.

“So far I haven’t seen any still stand­ing,” he said. “I’m telling peo­ple, if you live on the south side of High­way 98, don’t bother to come back.”

Nate and Melba Odum, the own­ers of the lo­cal ma­rina, holed up in a fam­ily mem­ber’s fourth-floor condo.

While that struc­ture sur­vived rel­a­tively in­tact, they emerged to find the hur­ri­cane had de­stroyed their ma­rina and ripped the walls and roof off their condo, suck­ing the bed out of their daugh­ter’s bed­room.

“Look, the dresser’s still there,” Melba said, point­ing up at the lone piece of fur­ni­ture.

“I never thought it would be this cat­a­strophic,” Nate said as they stood in a park­ing lot, pack­ing a gui­tar, ri­fles, cow­boy boots and jew­elry to store in their broth­erin-law’s condo.

“I just can’t be­lieve it,” Melba said. “My life has stopped right now. I don’t have a home and I can’t go to work any­more.”

Many res­i­dents who had sur­vived the storm wor­ried about neigh­bors they hadn’t heard from. With power and cell­phone cov­er­age out, news spread slowly.

Just as Spann got ready to climb back up on the golf cart af­ter sur­vey­ing the site of her de­stroyed home, she spot­ted a man wheel­ing a bi­cy­cle through the de­bris. “David!” she cried. Her friend, David Mullins, bounded over, grin­ning as he told her he had been try­ing to look for her. “God bless you,” he said. He put his arm around Spann as they scanned what was left of their neigh­bor­hood.

“It’s a mir­a­cle you and I are alive,” Mullins said.

Gerald Herbert Associated Press

Joe Raedle Getty Images

A SEARCH-AND-RES­CUE TEAM looks for sur­vivors amid the rub­ble left by Hur­ri­cane Michael in Mex­ico Beach, Fla. The storm hit with Cat­e­gory 4 winds.

Joe Raedle Getty Images

IN PANAMA CITY, Amanda Logs­don comes home to a shat­tered house. Wind speeds reached 155 mph as Hur­ri­cane Michael made land­fall. As of late Thurs­day, at least six peo­ple had been killed by the storm.

Chris O’Meara Getty Images

AN AERIAL VIEW shows the destruction that hit some of the homes in Mex­ico Beach. “That was where my house was,” said one sur­vivor, Jackie Spann.

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