Searches intensify after body found during cleanup in hurricane’s wake
MEXICO BEACH, FLA. (AP) — 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.
Crews with dogs went door-to-door in Mexico Beach and pushed aside debris to get inside badly damaged structures in a second wave of searches after what they said was 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 stormravaged coast as crews cleared downed trees and power lines, but traffic lights remained out and lines at the few gas stations that were open were five to six cars deep.
Schools will stay closed indefinitely, a hospital halted operations and sent 200 patients to hospitals elsewhere in Florida and in Alabama, and 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.”
Miami Fire Chief Joseph Zahralban, the leader of a search-and-rescue unit combing through the wreckage of Mexico Beach, said searchers were trying to determine if the person found dead in the community had been alone or was part of a family.
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-year-old 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 made it.” said. “But I