Hurricane rescue efforts hindered as death toll rises
The death toll from Hurricane Michael rose to 17 across four states on Friday, law-enforcement officials said, as rescue crews hampered by communications failures searched the hardest-hit communities in the Florida Panhandle. Searchers found one person dead in the rubble of Mexico Beach, said Joseph Zahralban, Miami’s fire chief and the task-force leader of a search and rescue unit. Three additional deaths were reported in Marianna, in Jackson County, Fla., Sheriff Lou Roberts told a news conference on Friday afternoon.
The number of fatalities was expected to rise further as rescuers go door to door and comb through the rubble in oceanfront communities such as Mexico Beach, Port St. Joe and Panama City that bore the brunt of the storm’s wrath.
“I think you’re going to see it climb,” Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said of the death count. “We still haven’t gotten into some of the hardest-hit areas.”
The dead include at least eight people in Florida, five in Virginia, three in North Carolina and one in Georgia.
FEMA crews have been using bulldozers and other heavy equipment to push a path through debris to allow rescuers to probe the rubble with sniffer dogs.
Michael blew ashore near the small Florida Panhandle town of
Mexico Beach on Wednesday afternoon as one of the most powerful storms in U.S. history, with winds up to 250 kilometres an hour. It pushed a wall of seawater inland, causing widespread flooding.
The storm, which in fewer than two days grew from a tropical storm to a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step SaffirSimpson scale, tore apart entire neighbourhoods in the Panhandle, reducing homes to naked concrete foundations or piles of wood and siding.
Except for the emergency-911 system, authorities in Bay County, the epicentre of the hurricane disaster, were virtually without telephone or internet service until late in the day on Friday, making communications internally and with the public difficult.
“We didn’t have anything. We’ve been writing things down on pieces of paper,” said Ruth Corley, a spokeswoman for the Bay County Sheriff’s Department. “We’re doing what we can with the minimal media that we have.”
She said local television stations were knocked off the air for two days, and that authorities were relying on the radio station of the Gulf Coast State College to broadcast publicservice bulletins.
Except for the emergency-911 system, authorities in [Florida’s]
Bay County, the epicentre of the hurricane disaster, were virtually without telephone or internet service until late in the day on Friday …