‘Un­be­liev­able de­struc­tion’

Storm leaves be­hind rows upon rows of smashed houses as it pushes out of Flor­ida

The Sun Times (Owen Sound) - - WORLD - JAY REEVES and BREN­DAN FAR­RING­TON

PANAMA CITY, Fla. — The dev­as­ta­tion in­flicted by hur­ri­cane Michael came into fo­cus Thurs­day with rows upon rows of homes found smashed to pieces, as res­cue crews be­gan mak­ing their way into the stricken ar­eas in hopes of ac­count­ing for hun­dreds of peo­ple who may have de­fied evac­u­a­tion or­ders.

At least two 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 ten­ta­tively from dark­ened shel­ters and ho­tels to a per­ilous land­scape of shat­tered homes and shop­ping cen­tres, 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. A 130km stretch of In­ter­state 10, the main east-west route along the Pan­han­dle, was closed.

Some of the worst dam­age was in Mex­ico Beach, where the hur­ri­cane crashed ashore Wed­nes­day as a Cat­e­gory 4 mon­ster with 250 km/h winds and a storm surge of 2.7 me­tres. 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. Boats were tossed ashore like toys.

A Na­tional Guard team got into Mex­ico Beach and found 20 sur­vivors overnight, and more crews were push­ing into the area in the morn­ing, with the fate of many res­i­dents un­known, au­thor­i­ties said. State of­fi­cials said 285 peo­ple in Mex­ico Beach had re­fused to leave ahead of the hur­ri­cane de­spite a manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­der.

Mishelle McPher­son and her ex­hus­band searched for the el­derly mother of a friend. The woman lived in a small cin­derblock house about 140 me­tres from the Gulf and thought she would be OK.

Her home was re­duced to crum­bled cin­derblocks and pieces of floor tile.

“Aggy! Aggy!” McPher­son yelled. The only sound that came back was the echo from the half-de­mol­ished build­ing and the pound­ing of the surf. “Do you think her body would be here? Do you think it would have floated away?” she asked.

As she walked down the street, McPher­son pointed out pieces of what had been the woman’s house: “That’s the blade from her ceil­ing fan. That’s her floor tile.”

The gov­er­nor pleaded with peo­ple in the dev­as­tated ar­eas to stay away for now be­cause of fallen trees, power lines and other de­bris.

“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.”

More than 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 Panama City, an­other one of the hard­est-hit spots, 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.

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-year-old 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.

Fore­cast­ers said Michael could drop up to 180 mm 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.

GER­ALD HER­BERT/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Mishelle McPher­son looks for her friend’s mother in the rub­ble of her home, since the woman stayed be­hind in her home dur­ing hur­ri­cane Michael, in Mex­ico Beach, Fla., on Thurs­day.

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