Flor­ida pan­han­dle towns flat­tened

Struc­tures torn away; crews hunt sur­vivors

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

PANAMA CITY, Fla. — The dev­as­ta­tion in­flicted by Hur­ri­cane Michael came into fo­cus Thurs­day with rows upon rows of homes found smashed to pieces, as res­cue crews started mak­ing their way into the stricken ar­eas in hopes of ac­count­ing for hun­dreds of peo­ple who didn’t evac­u­ate be­fore the storm.

At least six deaths were blamed on Michael, the most pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane to hit the con­ti­nen­tal U.S. in more than 50 years. It was down­graded to a trop­i­cal storm by Thurs­day, but still it pro­duced flash flood­ing in North Carolina and Vir­ginia, soak­ing ar­eas re­cov­er­ing from Hur­ri­cane Florence.

Un­der a blue sky Thurs­day, fam­i­lies liv­ing along the Flor­ida pan­han­dle emerged from dark­ened shel­ters and ho­tels to a land­scape of shat­tered build­ings, beep­ing se­cu­rity alarms, wail­ing sirens and hov­er­ing he­li­copters.

Gov. Rick Scott said the pan­han­dle woke up to “unimag­in­able de­struc­tion.”

The full ex­tent of Michael is slowly be­com­ing clear, with some of the hard­esthit ar­eas dif­fi­cult to reach be­cause roads are blocked by de­bris or wa­ter.

“So many lives have been changed for­ever. So many fam­i­lies have lost ev­ery­thing,” he said.

The full ex­tent of Michael is slowly be­com­ing clear, with some of the hard­est-hit ar­eas dif­fi­cult to reach be­cause roads are blocked by de­bris or wa­ter. An 80-mile stretch of In­ter­state 10, the main east­west route along the pan­han­dle, was closed Thurs­day.

Some of the worst dam­age was in Mex­ico Beach, where the hur­ri­cane crashed ashore Wed­nes­day as a Cat­e­gory 4 storm with 155 mph winds and a storm surge of 9 feet. Video from a drone re­vealed widespread dev­as­ta­tion across the town that had about 1,000 res­i­dents.

En­tire blocks of homes near the beach were oblit­er­ated, re­duced to noth­ing but con­crete slabs in the sand. Rows and rows of other homes were turned into piles of splin­tered lum­ber or were crum­pled and slumped at odd an­gles. En­tire roofs were torn away and dropped onto a road­way.

State of­fi­cials said 285 peo­ple in Mex­ico Beach had ig­nored a manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­der ahead of the storm.

Na­tional Guard troops made their way into the town Wed­nes­day night and found 20 sur­vivors, and more res­cue crews were push­ing into the area Thurs­day, with the fate of many res­i­dents un­known.

Mishelle McPher­son and her ex-hus­band searched for the el­derly mother of a friend. The woman lived in a small cin­der-block house about 150 yards from the Gulf and thought she would be OK dur­ing the storm. The home was found smashed, with no sign of the woman.

“Do you think her body would be here? Do you think it would have floated away?” McPher­son asked.

As thou­sands of Na­tional Guard troops, law en­force­ment of­fi­cers and med­i­cal teams fanned out, the gov­er­nor pleaded with peo­ple from the dev­as­tated ar­eas to stay away for now be­cause of haz­ards that in­clude fallen trees and power lines.

“I know you just want to go home. You want to check on things and be­gin the re­cov­ery process,” Scott said. But “we have to make sure things are safe.”

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he had heard from lo­cal au­thor­i­ties who de­scribed ex­ten­sive dam­age. “These are not peo­ple prone to hy­per­bole,” Rubio said on CNN. “Panama City is cat­a­strophic dam­age. Some­one told me, ‘Mex­ico Beach is gone.’”

The Coast Guard said it res­cued at least 27 peo­ple be­fore and af­ter the hur­ri­cane moved ashore, mostly from homes along the Flor­ida coast­line, and was search­ing for more vic­tims.

Among those taken to safety were nine peo­ple res­cued by he­li­copter from a bath­room at their home in hard-hit Panama City af­ter their roof col­lapsed, Petty Of­fi­cer 3rd Class Ron­ald Hodges said.

More than 900,000 homes and busi­nesses in Flor­ida, Alabama, Ge­or­gia and the Caroli­nas were with­out power Thurs­day evening.

In Panama City, most homes were still stand­ing, but no prop­erty was left un­dam­aged. Downed power lines lay nearly ev­ery­where. Roofs had been peeled off and car­ried away. Alu­minum sid­ing was shred­ded to rib­bons. Homes were split open by fallen trees.

Hun­dreds of cars had bro­ken win­dows. Twisted street signs lay on the ground. Pine trees were stripped and snapped off at about 20 feet high.

In nearby Panama City Beach, Bay County Sher­iff Tommy Ford re­ported widespread loot­ing of homes and busi­nesses. He im­posed a cur­few and asked for 50 mem­bers of the Na­tional Guard to pro­vide pro­tec­tion.

The hur­ri­cane also dam­aged hos­pi­tals and nurs­ing homes in the Panama City area, and of­fi­cials worked to evac­u­ate hun­dreds of pa­tients. The dam­age at Bay Med­i­cal Sa­cred Heart in­cluded blown-out win­dows, a cracked ex­te­rior wall and a roof col­lapse in a main­te­nance build­ing. No pa­tients were hurt, the hos­pi­tal said.

The state men­tal hos­pi­tal in Chat­ta­hoochee, which has a sec­tion for the crim­i­nally in­sane, was cut off by land, and food and sup­plies were be­ing flown in, au­thor­i­ties said.

Michael pum­meled Tyn­dall Air Force Base, near Panama City, caus­ing “widespread roof dam­age” to near- ly ev­ery home and leav­ing the base closed un­til fur­ther no­tice, of­fi­cials said.

“At this point, Tyn­dall res­i­dents and evac­u­ated per­son­nel should re­main at their safe lo­ca­tion,” said Col. Brian Laidlaw, 325th Fighter Wing com­man­der. “We are ac­tively de­vel­op­ing plans to re­unite fam­i­lies and plan to pro­vide safe pas­sage back to base hous­ing.”

In a state­ment, of­fi­cials said the “cat­a­strophic” storm de­liv­ered a di­rect hit to the base, “bring­ing down trees and power lines, rip­ping roofs off build­ings and caus­ing sig­nif­i­cant struc­tural dam­age.”

Winds top­ping 130 mph ripped up a dis­play of an F-15 fighter jet at the base en­trance, tear­ing it from its foun­da­tion, pitch­ing it into the air and tip­ping it up­side down. No in­juries had been re­ported as of late Thurs­day, the base said, but the con­di­tion of Tyn­dall’s run­way is not yet known.

Tyn­dall’s manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­der was is­sued Mon­day, and it re­mains in ef­fect. The 600 fam­i­lies who live on base were of­fered space in lo­cal shel­ters.

“Ini­tial as­sess­ments of the dam­age at Tyn­dall Air Force Base have iden­ti­fied se­vere dam­age to the base in­fras­truc­ture,” ac­cord­ing to an Air Force of­fi­cial. “There is no power, wa­ter or sewer ser­vice to the base at this time. All per­son­nel as­signed to ride out the storm are ac­counted for with no in­juries. The Air Force is work­ing to con­duct aerial surveil­lance of the dam­age, to clear a route to the base and to pro­vide se­cu­rity, potable wa­ter, la­trines and com­mu­ni­ca­tion equip­ment. The base will re­main closed, and Air­men as­signed to Tyn­dall should not plan to re­turn at this time.”

Au­thor­i­ties said Thurs­day that they have linked at least six deaths in Flor­ida, Ge­or­gia and North Carolina to the storm.

In Flor­ida, the Gads­den County sher­iff’s of­fice re­ported four deaths. A spokesman said one man was killed when a tree crashed through the roof of his home in Greens­boro. The sher­iff’s of­fice said it also had three other “storm-re­lated fa­tal­i­ties fol­low­ing Hur­ri­cane Michael,” al­though it did not im­me­di­ately re­lease fur­ther in­for­ma­tion.

In North Carolina, a 38-year-old man was killed Thurs­day af­ter­noon in Ire­dell County when a tree fell on the ve­hi­cle he was driv­ing, ac­cord­ing to David Souther, the county’s fire mar­shal.

And in Ge­or­gia, of­fi­cials in Semi­nole County said early Thurs­day that an 11-year-old girl in a mo­bile home was killed by a me­tal car­port that was thrown into the air by Michael’s gust­ing winds.

Brock Long, the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency ad­min­is­tra­tor, said early Thurs­day that “search and res­cue is where we are hy­per-fo­cused this morn­ing.” He warned in an ap­pear­ance on CNN that “those num­bers could climb as search-an­dres­cue teams get out.”

ITS MOVE IN­LAND

As the storm made its way in­land, it caused havoc in Ge­or­gia, spin­ning off pos­si­ble tor­na­does and tak­ing down power lines and trees. Fore­cast­ers said it could drop up to 7 inches of rain over the Caroli­nas and Vir­ginia be­fore push­ing out to sea Thurs­day night.

In North Carolina’s moun­tains, mo­torists had to be res­cued from cars trapped by high wa­ter.

“For North Carolina, Michael isn’t as bad as Florence, but it adds un­wel­come in­sult to in­jury, so we must be on alert,” Gov. Roy Cooper said.

Vir­ginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Thurs­day de­clared a state of emer­gency in ad­vance of the storm, warn­ing peo­ple in the com­mon­wealth to get ready for a siz­able hit from the former hur­ri­cane.

“I want to urge all Vir­gini­ans to pre­pare for the se­ri­ous pos­si­bil­ity of flash floods, trop­i­cal storm force winds, tor­na­does and power out­ages,” Northam said in a state­ment.

In his ex­ec­u­tive or­der, Northam said he was ac­ti­vat­ing the state’s emer­gency op­er­a­tions cen­ter as well as the Vir­ginia Na­tional Guard.

Northam’s an­nounce­ment came af­ter of­fi­cials in the five

states al­ready hit by Michael — Flor­ida, Ge­or­gia, Alabama, South Carolina and North Carolina — all de­clared emer­gen­cies.

Much of Vir­ginia was un­der tor­nado watches and flash flood watches Thurs­day, with rain­fall of up to 7 inches pre­dicted in some parts of the state, a to­tal that could lead to flood­ing.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ap­proved dis­as­ter re­quests for Ge­or­gia and Flor­ida stem­ming from the hur­ri­cane, moves that au­tho­rize fed­eral au­thor­i­ties to co­or­di­nate re­sponse ef­forts while also open­ing up fed­eral fund­ing to of­fi­cials in those ar­eas.

The White House said Trump de­clared a ma­jor dis­as­ter in Flor­ida, while FEMA said he had signed an emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion for Ge­or­gia. In re­marks Thurs­day, Trump spoke about the hur­ri­cane, not­ing that it had swept through the area quickly.

“The big prob­lem with this hur­ri­cane was the tremen­dous power, and for­tu­nately it was very fast,” he said Thurs­day. “It went through Flor­ida very, very quickly.”

More than 375,000 peo­ple up and down the Gulf Coast were or­dered or urged to clear out as Michael closed in. But emer­gency au­thor­i­ties lamented that many peo­ple ig­nored the warn­ings.

“Why peo­ple didn’t evac­u­ate is some­thing we should be study­ing,” said Craig Fu­gate, former di­rec­tor of FEMA and a former Flor­ida state emer­gency man­age­ment chief. “Is there more the gov­ern­ment can do? But we ask that ev­ery time.”

In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Jay Reeves, Bren­dan Far­ring­ton,Ta­mara Lush, Gary Fi­ne­out, Terry Spencer, Jen­nifer Kay, Freida Fris­aro, Russ Bynum, Jonathan Drew and Seth Boren­stein of The As­so­ci­ated Press; by Mark Ber­man, An­to­nia Noori Farzan, Eli Rosen­berg and J. Free­dom du Lac of The

and by Richard Faus­set, Pa­tri­cia Mazzei and Alan Blinder of

AP/U.S. Sev­ereS­tu­dios.com

An aerial im­age (above) from video Thurs­day shows some of the dev­as­ta­tion at Mex­ico Beach, Fla., af­ter a di­rect hit by Hur­ri­cane Michael that pro­duced 155 mph winds and a storm surge of 9 feet. A searc­hand-res­cue team (right) steps through smashed homes and de­bris look­ing for sur­vivors. Other teams were work­ing at sim­i­lar scenes of de­struc­tion across the Flor­ida pan­han­dle. An Amer­i­can flag (left) waves over what’s left of a neigh­bor­hood at Mex­ico Beach.

AP/GER­ALD HER­BERT

The New York Times/ERIC THAYER

AP/Tampa Bay Times/DOU­GLAS R. CLIF­FORD

Flor­ida emer­gency work­ers Pa­tri­cia Cantrell (left) and Ana Kauf­mann sur­vey the dam­age Thurs­day on the western edge of Mex­ico Beach, Fla.

AP/CHRIS O’MEARA

Thurs­day of the front of this bank in Panama City Beach, Fla. With widespread loot­ing re­ported in the city, a cur­few was or­dered and Na­tional Guard troops re­quested.

AP/Win­ston-Salem Jour­nal/AN­DREW DYE

A pedes­trian bat­tles the wind and the rain Thurs­day in Win­ston-Salem, N.C., as the rem­nants of Hur­ri­cane Michael move up the East Coast, pro­duc­ing flood­ing in ar­eas still re­cov­er­ing from Hur­ri­cane Florence.

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