Far from the shattered coast, storm packed an unexpected punch
“There’s a group of us who have been warning about this for years.”
MARIANNA, Fla. — After carving a path of despair along the coast of Florida’s Panhandle, Hurricane Michael drubbed the state’s inland rural communities with such unexpected brutal force that it left residents and officials stunned — and facing a daunting recovery.
That a ferocious storm could blast north from the Gulf of Mexico and through a battery of states before it finally fled to the Atlantic Ocean early on Friday was always a possibility, but not one people here thought likely.
“There’s a group of us who have been warning about this for years,” said Rodney E. Andreasen, director of emergency management for Jackson County, where Marianna is the county seat. Andreasen said the area felt sustained winds of 130 to 140 mph.
By the time Michael crossed into Georgia, it was still classified as a major Category 3 hurricane with a clearly defined and devastating eye.
The death toll rose to 18 on Saturday, with people killed by trees or washed away in cars in Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia. Officials in Virginia confirmed on Saturday six deaths in the state, including two family members who were swept from a bridge.
“This is the worst disaster Jackson County has ever seen,” Andreasen said. Three deaths were recorded in that county. A fourth remains under investigation, and the sheriff said his
— RODNEY E. ANDREASEN, DIRECTOR OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT FOR JACKSON COUNTY, FLA.
deputies continued to find people trapped inside their homes by felled trees.
The first sign of help Darryl Brunson and his brothers said they saw was on Friday, when marked police cars raced down their street, their intent unclear, and maneuvered across an obstacle course of trees. A few minutes later, heavy equipment yanked one of the huge tree trunks from the ground and hauled it away.
“Everything else we cleaned ourselves with our bare hands,” said Brunson, 27.
The hurricane’s winds were so strong, Brunson said, he did not hear a tree snap and fall in his own front yard — away from the house, luckily, and from his four children.
Now Brunson and his neighbors fear weeks without electricity — and perhaps without paychecks — as the town of Marianna and the rest of Florida’s vast rural counties struggle to return from a disaster usually associated with beachfronts. Some of them worry the shattered coast, beloved by residents and tourists alike, will draw most of the attention and dollars, leaving places like this one, with shoestring economies to begin with, unattended.
Dave Stough recovers a flag Friday that had been attached to his carport that was crushed by a large tree crashing onto his mobile home, in Virginia Beach, Va.