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