Far from the shat­tered coast, storm packed an un­ex­pected punch

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - REGION - NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SER­VICE PA­TRI­CIA MAZZEI

“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.

L. TODD SPENCER/THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT VIA AP

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.

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