‘Unimaginable destruction’ as Michael strikes
SEARCH-AND-RESCUE teams fanned out across the Florida Panhandle to reach trapped people in Hurricane Michael’s wake yesterday as daylight yielded scenes of rows upon rows of houses smashed to pieces by the third-most powerful hurricane on record to hit the continental US.
At least two deaths were blamed on Michael, and it wasn’t done yet: Although weakened into a tropical storm, it continued to bring heavy rain and blustery winds to the southeast as it pushed inland, soaking areas still recovering from last month’s Hurricane Florence.
Under a perfectly clear blue sky, Florida families emerged tentatively from darkened shelters and hotels to an unfamiliar and perilous landscape of shattered homes and shopping centers, beeping security alarms, wailing sirens and hovering helicopters.
Over 900,000 homes and businesses in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas were without power.
“This morning, Florida’s Gulf Coast and Panhandle and the Big Bend are waking up to unimaginable destruction,” Governor Rick Scott said.
“So many lives have been changed forever. So many families have lost everything. ... This hurricane was an absolute monster.”
But the full extent of the damage was only slowly becoming clear, with some of the worst areas difficult to reach. A 130-kilometer stretch of Interstate 10, the main east-west route along the Panhandle, was closed because of debris.
One of the hardest-hit spots was Mexico Beach, where Michael crashed ashore Wednesday as a Category 4 monster with 250 kilometer an hour winds. Video from a CNN helicopter yesterday revealed widespread devastation across the town of about 1,000 people.
Scott said the National Guard reached Mexico Beach and rescued 20 people who survived the direct hit.
The town was under a mandatory evacuation order as the rapidly developing storm closed in, but some people were determined to ride it out.
A day later, the beach town remained difficult to reach by land, with roads covered by fallen trees, power lines and other debris.
The governor pleaded with people in Florida not to go home yet.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard said it rescued at least 27 people, mostly from homes damaged 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 Panama City home after their roof collapsed, Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronald Hodges said.
Florida officials also said they were moving patients from damaged health care facilities.
The storm was expected to move across North Carolina and Virginia and push into the Atlantic Ocean by late yesterday or early today.
Along the 320-kilometer Panhandle, Michael washed away white-sand beaches, hammered military bases and destroyed coastal communities, stripping trees to stalks, shredding roofs, toppling trucks and pushing boats into buildings.
Authorities said a falling tree killed a man outside Tallahassee, Florida, and an 11-year-old girl in Georgia was killed 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.