THE LIVING AND THE DEAD
Searchers comb wreckage for victims of Hurricane Michael
MEXICO BEACH, Fla. — Florida authorities fielded a barrage of calls about people missing in Hurricane Michael’s aftermath as search-and-rescue teams Friday made their way through flattened neighbourhoods, looking for victims dead or alive.
The death toll stood at 13 across the South.
The number of dead was expected to rise, but authorities scrapped plans to set up a temporary morgue, indicating they had yet to see signs of mass casualties from the most powerful hurricane to hit the continental U.S. in nearly 50 years.
Residents, meanwhile, 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 mould.
“We’ve got to figure something out. We’re starting from scratch, all of us,” Plushnik said.
Across the ravaged region, officials set up distribution centres to hand out food and water to victims.
Some supplies were brought in by trucks, while others had to be delivered by helicopter because roads had yet to be cleared of debris.
President Trump announced plans to visit Florida and hard-hit Georgia early next week but didn’t say what day he’d arrive. “We are with you!” he tweeted.
Search teams continued to pick their way through the ruins of Mexico Beach, the ground-zero town of about 1,000 people that was nearly wiped off the map when Michael blew ashore Wednesday with devastating 249km/h winds.
Blocks and blocks of homes were demolished.
State officials said that by one count, 285 people in Mexico Beach defied mandatory evacuation orders and stayed behind.
Whether any of them got out at some point was unclear.
Emergency officials said they’ve received thousands of calls asking about missing people.
But with cellphone service out across vast swaths of the Florida Panhandle, officials said it’s possible that some of those unaccounted for are safe and just haven’t been able to contact friends or family to let them know.
Gov. Rick Scott said state officials still “do not know enough” about the fate of those who stayed behind in the region.
“We are not completely done. We are still getting down there,” the governor added.
Damaged boats sit among the debris in a marina in Panama City, Fla., yesterday in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.