SEARCH FOR VIC­TIMS

Hur­ri­cane’s death toll at 14 but likely to rise

The Times-Tribune - - NATION & WORLD - BY RUSS BYNUM AND BREN­DAN FAR­RING­TON

MEX­ICO BEACH, Fla. — Searc­hand-res­cue teams found at least one body in Mex­ico Beach, the groundzero town nearly oblit­er­ated by Hur­ri­cane Michael, an of­fi­cial said Fri­day as the scale of the storm’s fury be­came ever clearer.

The death toll across the South stood at 14, in­clud­ing the vic­tim dis­cov­ered in Mex­ico Beach. Mi­ami Fire Chief Joseph Zahral­ban, leader of a search-and-res­cue unit that went into the flat­tened town, said: “We have one con­firmed de­ceased and are work­ing to de­ter­mine if there are oth­ers.” Zahral­ban said searchers were try­ing to de­ter­mine if that per­son had been alone or was part of a fam­ily.

Zahral­ban spoke as his team — which in­cluded a dog — was wind­ing down its two-day search of Mex­ico Beach, the town of about 1,000 peo­ple that was nearly wiped off the map when Michael blew ashore there Wed­nes­day with dev­as­tat­ing 155 mph winds.

Blocks and blocks of homes were de­mol­ished, re­duced to splin­tered lum­ber or mere con­crete slabs by the most pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane to hit the con­ti­nen­tal U.S. in nearly 50 years.

As the cat­a­strophic dam­age across the Flor­ida Pan­han­dle came into view 48 hours af­ter the hur­ri­cane struck, there was lit­tle doubt the death toll would rise.

How high it might go was un­clear. But au­thor­i­ties scrapped plans to set up a tem­po­rary morgue, sug­gest­ing they had yet to see mass ca­su­al­ties.

State of­fi­cials said that by one count, 285 peo­ple in Mex­ico Beach de­fied manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­ders and stayed be­hind. Some of them suc­cess­fully rode out the storm. It was un­clear how many of the oth­ers might have got­ten out at the last minute.

Emer­gency of­fi­cials said they have re­ceived thou­sands of calls ask­ing about miss­ing peo­ple. But with cell­phone ser­vice out across vast swaths of the Flor­ida Pan­han­dle, of­fi­cials said it is pos­si­ble that some of those unaccounted for are safe and just haven’t been able to con­tact friends or fam­ily.

Across the rav­aged re­gion, mean­while, au­thor­i­ties set up dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ters to hand out food and wa­ter to vic­tims. Some sup­plies were brought in by trucks, while oth­ers had to be de­liv­ered by he­li­copter be­cause of de­bris still block­ing roads.

Res­i­dents be­gan to come to grips with the de­struc­tion and face up to the un­cer­tainty that lies ahead.

“I didn’t rec­og­nize noth­ing. Ev­ery­thing’s gone. I didn’t even know our road was our road,” said 25-year-old Tif­fany Marie Plush­nik, an evac­uee who re­turned to find her home in Sandy Creek too dam­aged to live in.

When she went back to the ho­tel where she took shel­ter from the storm, she found out she could no longer stay there ei­ther be­cause of mold. “We’ve got to fig­ure some­thing out. We’re start­ing from scratch, all of us,” Plush­nik said.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump an­nounced plans to visit Flor­ida and hard-hit Ge­or­gia early next week but didn’t say what day he would ar­rive. “We are with you!” he tweeted. Shell-shocked sur­vivors who barely es­caped with their lives told of ter­ri­fy­ing winds, surg­ing flood­wa­ters and homes crack­ing apart.

Scott Mcin­tyre / the New york times

A col­lapsed Dol­lar Gen­eral store awaits at­ten­tion Fri­day in the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Michael in Panama City, Fla.

Patti Blake / North­west Flor­ida daily News

Hur­ri­cane Michael ripped the wall and ceil­ing from the St. An­drew United Methodist Church in Panama City, Fla.

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