Desperation mounts inside disaster zone
Death toll rises as rescuers dig through rubble; food and water in short supply.
SPRINGFIELD, FLA. — Hurricane Michael’s death toll rose to 16 Friday and was expected to climb higher as emergency workers searched rubble and the storm’s grim consequences stretched from the Florida Panhandle into Virginia.
Rescue teams were in the early stages of combing a region razed by a Category 4 hurricane that flattened blocks, collapsed buildings and left infrastructure crippled. Some of the hardest-hit communities have yet to report any fatalities, and although officials said they hoped they would find survivors, a resigned gloom was setting in throughout the disaster zone.
Dr. Jay Radtke, the medical examiner for some of the areas of
most concern, including Panama City and Mexico Beach, said he could not release any information on the number of dead in the six Panhan- dle counties under his juris- diction. “We are swamped,” he said. “It’s a disaster zone down here.”
Here’s the latest:
■ At a news conference Friday afternoon in Mari- anna, Florida, Sheriff Lou Roberts confirmed three storm-related deaths in Jack- son County.
■ Authorities in Virginia said five people had died, including several who had drowned and a firefighter who was responding to an emergency call. Two other people were feared dead.
■ Four deaths occurred in Gadsden County, west of Tallahassee, according to Lt. Anglie Hightower, a spokeswoman for the sheriff ’s office. The victims included a man who died when a tree crashed down on his home in Greensboro.
■ An 11-year-old girl, Sarah Radney, was killed Wednesday when a carport was torn away and was sent hurtling into a modular home in Sem- inole County, Georgia.
■ North Carolina officials reported two more deaths Friday, raising the death toll there to three. Authorities said a man and a woman had died in McDowell County when their car struck a large tree that had fallen in a road.
■ At least 1.5 million customers were without electricity in states stretching from Florida to Virginia.
■ Many health institu- tions in Florida remained closed, including four hos- pitals, 13 nursing homes and 14 assisted living facilities, according to information distributed at a senior federal leadership briefing Friday and shared with The New York Times. The figures were slightly higher than those distributed by Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration. Several dialysis centers were also closed.
■ President Donald Trump said Friday that he would visit Florida and Geor- gia next week. “People have no idea how hard Hurricane Michael has hit the great state of Georgia,” he said on Twitter.
■ It has been a tough few weeks for the Carolinas. After thrashing the Florida Pan- handle, Michael slogged through states still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Florence last month.
■ Much of the coast of the Florida Panhandle, including Mexico Beach and Panama City, was devastated. The area is dotted with small, rural communities, some of them among the poorest in the state.
Most of the people who died in Virginia were drowning victims; another was a firefighter who had responded to a car crash on an interstate highway.
The firefighter, Lt. Brad Clack of the Hanover County Fire-EMS Department, was one of four firefighters struck by their fire engine when a tractor-trailer slammed into it, pushing it into them, around 9 p.m. Thursday outside Richmond, according to the Virginia State Police.
Clack was at the scene of a two-vehicle crash on Interstate 295 during the storm. The fire engine’s lights were on, and the roads were slick when it was struck by the tractor-trailer on the side of the road, police said. The driver of the tractor-trailer suffered serious injuries, police said, and charges were pending.
The other three firefighters were taken to a hospital in serious condition.
One of the drowning victims died in Charlotte County, near t he North Carolina border, after a car was swept away on a bridge Thursday night, according to state police. Two other people were in the car, with one rescued and the other missing.
Earlier Thursday, James King Jr., 45, was swept away in his car in floodwaters in Pittsylvania County in southern Virginia around 3:30 p.m. and could not be rescued despite the efforts of sheriff ’s deputies, state police said. “The floodwaters were too deep and too swift for them to maintain contact with him,” police said.
And two people were killed in Danville, Virginia, on Thursday when their cars were overrun by flash flooding. William Lynn Tanksley, 53, died when the car he was in was swept away in fast-moving water around 5 p.m., the Danville Police Department said. A second person, whose identity has not been made public, died around 10:20 p.m. when the person’s car got stuck in high water.
A motorist was also reported missing in Nottoway County. The vehicle was recovered, but the person who was in the vehicle had not been found.
As the death toll rose in Virginia, authorities expected more deaths to be reported farther south along the hurricane’s path.
“I expect the fatality count to come up today. I expect it to come up tomorrow, as well, as we get through the debris,” Brock Long, chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in an interview with CNN on Friday. “Hopefully it doesn’t rise dramatically, but it is a possibility.”
Government officials were racing Friday to find a way to get food and water to the increasingly desperate people of the Florida Panhandle.
“When is anybody coming to do something?” said Trenisa Smith, 48, a school bus driver in Springfield who had been giving herself insulin treatments in the back of her car.
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, it was becoming clear that many residents were not only left without a habitable home, but also without adequate stockpiles of food.
Some residents were doing what they could to find food or water, including rummaging through stores that had been damaged. One man said he had been driving to the nearby bay and filling buckets with water to flush the toilets.
Carl Jones, 43, said that he had seen no hint of government response as of Thursday night — “only thing is the police came and said you’ve got to be inside” at nightfall, he said.
Romark Davis, 7, walks through the wreckage of the mobile home park where he lives in Panama City, Fla., on Friday. Hurricane Michael’s death toll rose to 16 on Friday and was expected to climb higher as emergency workers searched rubble left by the Category 4 storm.
An entire neighborhood in Mexico Beach, Fla., was wiped out by Hurricane Michael. The devastation came into focus Thursday with rows upon rows of homes found smashed to pieces.
State Road 98 is torn up at Mexico Beach in Florida’s Panhandle after Hurricane Michael slammed through the area, shattering scores of homes.