‘UNIMAG­IN­ABLE’

Big storm smashes rows of houses; At least two deaths blamed on Hur­ri­cane Michael

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Jay Reeves and Bren­dan Far­ring­ton

The dev­as­ta­tion in­flicted by Hur­ri­cane Michael came into fo­cus Thurs­day with rows upon rows of homes found smashed to pieces, and res­cue crews be­gan mak­ing their way into the stricken ar­eas in hopes of ac­count­ing for hun­dreds of peo­ple who may have stayed be­hind.

At least three deaths were blamed on Michael, the most pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane to hit the con­ti­nen­tal U.S. in over 50 years, and it wasn’t done yet: Though re­duced to a trop­i­cal storm, it brought flash flood­ing to North Carolina and Vir­ginia, soak­ing ar­eas still re­cov­er­ing from Hur­ri­cane Florence.

Un­der a per­fectly clear blue sky, fam­i­lies liv­ing along the Flor­ida Pan­han­dle emerged from dark­ened shel­ters and ho­tels to a per­ilous land­scape of shat­tered homes and shop­ping cen­ters, beep­ing se­cu­rity alarms, wail­ing sirens and hov­er­ing he­li­copters.

Gov. Rick Scott said the Pan­han­dle woke up to “unimag­in­able de­struc­tion.”

“So many lives have been changed for­ever. So many fam­i­lies have lost ev­ery­thing,” he said.

The full ex­tent of Michael’s fury was only slowly be­com­ing clear, with some of the hard­est-hit ar­eas dif­fi­cult to reach be­cause of roads blocked by de­bris or wa­ter. An 80-mile stretch of In­ter­state 10, the main east-west route along the Pan­han­dle, was closed.

Some of the worst dam-

"So many lives have been changed for­ever. So many fam­i­lies have lost ev­ery­thing." — Flor­ida Gov. Rick Scott

age was in Mex­ico Beach, where the hur­ri­cane crashed ashore Wed­nes­day as a Cat­e­gory 4 mon­ster with 155 mph winds and a storm surge of 9 feet. Video from a drone re­vealed widespread dev­as­ta­tion across the town of about 1,000 peo­ple.

En­tire blocks of homes near the beach were oblit­er­ated, re­duced to noth­ing but con­crete slabs in the sand. Rows and rows of other homes were turned into piles of splin­tered lum­ber or were crum­pled and slumped at odd an­gles. En­tire roofs were torn away and dropped onto a road.

State of­fi­cials said 285 peo­ple in Mex­ico Beach had de­fied a manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­der ahead of the storm.

Na­tional Guard troops made their way into the ground-zero town and found 20 sur­vivors Wed­nes­day night, and more res­cue crews were push­ing into the area, with the fate of many res­i­dents un­known.

Mishelle McPher­son and her ex-hus­band searched for the el­derly mother of a friend. The woman lived in a small cin­derblock house about 150 yards from the Gulf and thought she would be OK. The home was found smashed, with no sign of the woman.

“Do you think her body would be here? Do you think it would have floated away?” McPher­son asked.

As thou­sands of Na­tional Guard troops, law en­force­ment of­fi­cers and med­i­cal teams fanned out, the gov­er­nor pleaded with peo­ple in the dev­as­tated ar­eas to stay away for now be­cause of haz­ards that in­cluded fallen trees and power lines.

“I know you just want to go home. You want to check on things and be­gin the re­cov­ery process,” Scott said. But “we have to make sure things are safe.”

Over 900,000 homes and busi­nesses in Flor­ida, Alabama, Ge­or­gia and the Caroli­nas were with­out power.

The Coast Guard said it res­cued at least 27 peo­ple be­fore and af­ter the hur­ri­cane came ashore, mostly from homes along the Flor­ida coast­line, and searched for more vic­tims.

Among those brought to safety were nine peo­ple res­cued by he­li­copter from a bath­room of their home in hard-hit Panama City af­ter their roof col­lapsed, Petty Of­fi­cer 3rd Class Ron­ald Hodges said.

In Panama City, most homes were still stand­ing, but no prop­erty was left un­dam­aged. Downed power lines lay nearly ev­ery­where. Roofs had been peeled off and car­ried away. Alu­minum sid­ing was shred­ded to rib­bons. Homes were split open by fallen trees.

Hun­dreds of cars had bro­ken win­dows. Twisted street signs lay on the ground. Pine trees were stripped and snapped off about 20 feet high.

In nearby Panama City Beach, Bay County Sher­iff Tommy Ford re­ported widespread loot­ing of homes and busi­nesses. He im­posed a cur­few and asked for 50 mem­bers of the Na­tional Guard for pro­tec­tion.

The hur­ri­cane also dam­aged hos­pi­tals and nurs­ing homes in the Panama City area, and of­fi­cials worked to evac­u­ate hun­dreds of pa­tients. The dam­age at Bay Med­i­cal Sa­cred Heart in­cluded blown-out win­dows, a cracked ex­te­rior wall and a roof col­lapse in a main­te­nance build­ing. No pa­tients were hurt, the hos­pi­tal said.

The state men­tal hos­pi­tal in Chat­ta­hoochee, which has a sec­tion for the crim­i­nally in­sane, was cut off by land, and food and sup­plies were be­ing flown in, au­thor­i­ties said.

A man out­side Tal­la­has­see, Flor­ida, was killed by a fall­ing tree, and an 11-yearold girl in Ge­or­gia died when the winds picked up a car­port and dropped it on her home. One of the car­port’s legs punc­tured the roof and hit her in the head. A driver in North Carolina was killed when a tree fell on his car.

As the storm made its way in­land, it caused havoc in Ge­or­gia, spin­ning off pos­si­ble tor­na­does and tak­ing down power lines and trees. Fore­cast­ers said it could drop up to 7 inches (18 cen­time­ters) of rain over the Caroli­nas and Vir­ginia be­fore push­ing out to sea Thurs­day night.

In North Carolina’s moun­tains, mo­torists had to be res­cued from cars trapped by high wa­ter.

“For North Carolina, Michael isn’t as bad as Florence, but it adds un­wel­come in­sult to in­jury, so we must be on alert,” Gov. Roy Cooper said.

More than 375,000 peo­ple up and down the Gulf Coast were or­dered or urged to clear out as Michael closed in. But emer­gency au­thor­i­ties lamented that many peo­ple ig­nored the warn­ings.

“Why peo­ple didn’t evac­u­ate is some­thing we should be study­ing,” said Craig Fu­gate, former di­rec­tor of the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency and a former Flor­ida state emer­gency man­age­ment chief. “Is there more the gov­ern­ment can do? But we ask that ev­ery time.”

CHRIS O’MEARA — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

John Gouge walks through flood wa­ters as he goes to check on the post of­fice Wed­nes­day in St. Marks, Fla. Su­per­charged by ab­nor­mally warm wa­ters in the Gulf of Mex­ico, Hur­ri­cane Michael slammed into the Flor­ida Pan­han­dle with ter­ri­fy­ing winds of 155 mph Wed­nes­day, splin­ter­ing homes and sub­merg­ing neigh­bor­hoods be­fore con­tin­u­ing its march in­land.

GER­ALD HER­BERT — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Peo­ple cut away a tree on a ve­hi­cle Thurs­day in the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Michael in Panama City, Fla.

GER­ALD HER­BERT — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Res­cue per­son­nel search in the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Michael in Mex­ico Beach, Fla., Thurs­day.

GER­ALD HER­BERT — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A boat sits amid de­bris in the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Michael in Mex­ico Beach, Fla., Thurs­day.

DOU­GLAS R. CLIF­FORD — TAMPA BAY TIMES VIA AP

Port St. Joe Lodge No. 111 was in ru­ins af­ter Hur­ri­cane Michael made land­fall Wed­nes­day in Port St. Joe, Fla.

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