Rescuers scour Fla. for storm survivors
MEXICO BEACH, Fla. — Rescuers intensified efforts yesterday to find survivors who might be trapped amid the ruins of a small Florida Panhandle community nearly obliterated by Hurricane Michael, where one body has already been recovered, tempers are flaring, and the electric utility is warning that power could be out for weeks.
Crews with dogs went door-to-door in Mexico Beach and pushed aside debris to get inside badly damage structures in a second wave of searches following what they described as an initial, “hasty” search of the area.
Authorities say there is little doubt the death toll will rise from the storm, which made landfall Wednesday as a Category 4 hurricane with 155 mph winds and heavy storm surge. The tally of lives lost across the South stood at 14, including the victim found in the rubble of Mexico Beach, where about 1,000 people live.
“Everything is time-consuming,” said Capt. Ignatius Carroll of the South Florida Urban Search and Rescue task force. “You don’t want to put a rush on a thorough rescue.”
More roads were passable along the storm-ravaged coast as crews cleared downed trees and power lines, but traffic lights remained out and long lines heightened tensions at one of the area’s few open gas stations.
“I want you to get back in your vehicle and stop!” one woman shouted at a man accosting her as she tried to squeeze her car between two idling vehicles at a Panama City service station running two fuel pumps on a generator.
“You’re an idiot!” the man shouted back.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has called up 4,000 members of the state’s National Guard to deal with the deadly storm, adding 500 more yesterday, and nearly 2,000 law-enforcement officials have been sent into the Panhandle. Schools will stay closed indefinitely, a hospital halted operations and sent 200 patients to hospitals elsewhere in Florida and in Alabama, and more than 253,000 customers in the Panhandle remain without power.
Some residents were packing up and getting as far away as they could.
Jeff and Katrina Pearsey, with a ruined rental home in the Panama City area and no indication of when they could again earn a living, said they were heading to Bangor, Maine, where Katrina once worked as a nurse. Several trees came down on their property, including one that smashed through the roof.
“We’re getting our stuff and we’re going,” said Jeff Pearsey, 48. “We’re probably done with Panama City.”
AFTERMATH: Members of a South Florida urban search and rescue team, top, and Miami firefighter Capt. Richard Rojas, left above, search for survivors in Mexico Beach, Fla., Friday after Hurricane Michael tore through the Panhandle Wednesday.