Search on for sur­vivors

Otago Daily Times - - WORLD WEEKEND -

PORT SAINT JOE: Res­cuers will pick through the rub­ble of rav­aged beach com­mu­ni­ties search­ing for sur­vivors to­day af­ter Michael, one of the most pow­er­ful hurricanes in US his­tory, slammed into the Florida Pan­han­dle, killing at least seven peo­ple.

The storm tore en­tire neigh­bour­hoods apart, re­duc­ing homes and busi­nesses to piles of wood and sid­ing, 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 and ca­su­al­ties, as he­li­copters cir­cled over­head.

‘‘We pre­pare for the worst and hope for the best. This is ob­vi­ously the worst,’’ said Stephanie Palmer, a Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency firefighter and res­cuer.

Much of down­town Port Saint Joe, 19km east of Mex­ico Beach, was flooded af­ter Michael snapped boats in two and hurled a large ship on to 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.

Pat­ter­son es­ti­mated 1000 homes were com­pletely or par­tially de­stroyed in his town of 3500 peo­ple.

Jor­don Tood (31), a char­ter boat cap­tain in Port Saint 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.’’

In Apalachicola, 48km east of where the storm made land­fall, a lit­tle less than half of the 2200 peo­ple stayed and rode out the storm, res­i­dents said.

‘‘I’ve never seen any­thing like this crazi­ness,’’ Tamara’s Cafe owner Danny Itzkovitz said.

‘‘We’ve had storms be­fore — in ’05 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.’’

The storm peeled back part of the gym roof and tore off a wall at Jinks Mid­dle School in Panama City. A year ago, the school wel­comed pupils and fam­i­lies dis­placed by Hur­ri­cane Maria in Puerto Rico.

Michael was the third­strong­est storm on record to hit the con­ti­nen­tal United States, be­hind only Hur­ri­cane Camille on the Mis­sis­sippi Gulf Coast in 1969 and the Labour Day hur­ri­cane of 1935 in the Florida Keys.

It weak­ened yes­ter­day to a trop­i­cal storm.

At least seven peo­ple were killed by fall­ing trees and other hur­ri­cane­re­lated in­ci­dents in Florida, Ge­or­gia and North Carolina, ac­cord­ing to state of­fi­cials.

Emer­gency ser­vices car­ried out dozens of res­cues of peo­ple caught in swiftly mov­ing flood­wa­ters in North Carolina.

Many of the in­jured in Florida were taken to hard­hit Panama City, 32km north­west of Mex­ico Beach.

The Gulf Coast Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­tre treated some but the hos­pi­tal evac­u­ated 130 pa­tients as it faced chal­lenges run­ning on gen­er­a­tors af­ter the storm knocked out power, ripped off part of its roof and smashed win­dows, a spokesman for the hos­pi­tal’s owner, HCA Health­care, said.

Al­most 1.2 mil­lion homes and busi­nesses were with­out power from Florida to Vir­ginia yes­ter­day be­cause of the storm.

Num­bers in emer­gency shel­ ters were ex­pected to swell to 20,000 across five states by to­day, Brad Kieser­man of the Amer­i­can Red Cross said.

Brad Rippey, a me­te­o­rol­o­gist for the US Agri­cul­ture De­part­ment, said Michael caused dam­age es­ti­mated to cost as much as $US1.9 bil­lion ($NZ2.9 bil­lion). — Reuters.

PHOTO: REUTERS

In wake of Michael . . . An Amer­i­can flag flies among rub­ble left in the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Michael in Mex­ico Beach, Florida, yes­ter­day.

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