Floridians pick up after Hurricane Michael
SPRINGFIELD, Fla. — Entire oceanfront communities in the Florida Panhandle were virtually obliterated, an Air Force base suffered “catastrophic” damage and at least six people were killed by Hurricane Michael, a suckerpunch of a storm that now ranks as one of the four most powerful hurricanes ever to strike the United States.
“This one just looks like a bomb dropped,” said Clyde Cain, who is with the Louisiana Cajun Navy, a group of volunteer search-andrescue teams that went to Florida to help in Michael’s wake, just as they did last month during Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas.
Michael was downgraded to a tropical storm Thursday as it sped northeast through Georgia and the Carolinas on a path out into the Atlantic Ocean. But its relatively short assault on Florida’s Gulf Coast was devastating.
Tiny Mexico Beach, Fla., a town of about 1,000 residents, appeared to be have been almost destroyed by Michael’s 155 mph impact — just 1 mph short of a Category 5 storm. Aerial footage showed much of the seaside enclave reduced to kindling, trees sheared off just above the ground, tangles of power lines strewn in the streets, and cars and boats piled up like rubbish. Entire blocks seemed empty, with houses and everything else that had been on them smashed by storm surge and wind, and presumably washed out to sea.
“This is not stuff that you just put back together overnight,” said William “Brock” Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Official states of emergency were declared in Alabama, Georgia, and as far north as the Carolinas and Virginia, which are still reeling from the devastating floods of Florence. Hundreds of thousands of people remained without power late Thursday across the Southeast, and some areas were essentially cut off more than 24 hours after Michael made landfall, with roads blocked by massive trees and cellphone service out.
The rain and wind from the storm caused flooding and power outages in Virginia cities along the North Carolina border and in the central part of the state. Nearly 145,000 Virginians were without power Thursday evening, according to the state’s Department of Emergency Management.
Curtis Locus, a Florida Department of Transportation worker, said the damage he has seen across the Panhandle is unprecedented.
“This was a community in the middle of the forest. Now the forest is gone, and so is the community,” Locus said. “… This is Party Town, USA. Now it’s Devastated Town, USA. Everything along the coastline was devastated like a war zone.”
In Springfield and nearby Panama City, apartment buildings are roofless, gas station awnings are twisted beyond recognition, businesses collapsed, metal posts as thick as tree trucks were folded in half, and billboards were blown onto homes or crushed cars.
“We didn’t figure it was going to be this bad,” said Mike Davis, 56, sitting on the sidewalk outside Oasis Liquor, a store on Panama City’s 15th Street, staring dully at the debris around him. “This is devastating.”
“They ain’t going to fix this overnight,” he said. “It’s going to take a long time.”
Rescue personnel search among the wreckage in Mexico Beach, Fla., on Thursday. State officials said 285 people in the town of about 1,000 defied a mandatory evacuation order.