Rescue teams scour chaos of Michael
PORT ST. JOE, Florida — Rescuers picked through the rubble of ravaged beach communities searching for survivors on Friday after Michael, one of the most powerful hurricanes in US history, slammed into the Florida Panhandle, killing at least seven people.
Michael struck Florida’s northwest coast near the small town of Mexico Beach on Wednesday afternoon with top sustained winds of 250 km/h, pushing a wall of seawater inland and causing widespread flooding.
The storm tore entire neighborhoods apart, reducing homes and businesses to piles of wood, damaging roads and leaving scenes of devastation that resembled the aftermath of a carpetbombing operation.
US Army personnel used heavy equipment to push a path through debris in Mexico Beach to allow rescuers through to search for trapped residents, survivors or casualties, as Blackhawk helicopters circled overhead. Rescuers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency used dogs, drones and GPS in the search.
“We prepare for the worst and hope for the best. This is obviously the worst,” said Stephanie Palmer, a FEMA firefighter and rescuer from Coral Springs, Florida.
Linda Marquardt, 67, rode out the storm with her husband at their home in Mexico Beach. When the house filled with storm surge water, they fled upstairs.
“All of my furniture was floating,” she said on Thursday. “A river just started coming down the road. It was awful, and now there’s just nothing left.”
She said their home is full of mud. “We’ll have to bulldoze and start over.”
Much of downtown Port St. Joe, 20 kilometers east of Mexico Beach, was flooded after Michael snapped boats in two and hurled a large ship onto the shore, residents said.
“We had houses that were on one side of the street and now they’re on the other,” said Mayor Bo Patterson, who watched trees fly by his window as he rode out the storm in his home seven blocks from the beach.
Patterson estimated 1,000 homes were completely or partially destroyed in his town of 3,500 people.
Jordon Tood, 31, a charter boat captain in Port St. Joe, said: “There were mandatory evacuation orders, but only idiots like us stuck around.”
“This was my sixth (hurricane), so I thought I was prepared,” he said.
In Apalachicola, about 50 km east of where the storm made landfall, a little less than half of the 2,200 people stayed and rode out the storm, residents said.
“I’ve never seen anything like this craziness,” said Tamara’s cafe owner Danny Itzkovitz, 54, as he was busy grilling burgers. “We’ve had storms before — in 2005 we had four or five in a row. I didn’t even take the boards off my window. But, holy smokes, this one kicked our butt.”
Michael had weakened overnight to a tropical storm.
Crews work on power lines damaged by Hurricane Michael in Panama City Beach, Florida, on Thursday.