SEARCHERS FIND BODY IN FLORIDA TOWN; HUR­RI­CANE DEATH TOLL AT 14

Chicago Sun-Times - - NATION/WORLD - BY RUSS BYNUM AND BREN­DAN FAR­RING­TON

MEX­ICO BEACH, Fla. — Search-an­dres­cue teams found at least one body in Mex­ico Beach, the ground-zero town nearly oblit­er­ated by Hur­ri­cane Michael, an of­fi­cial said Fri­day as the scale of the storm’s fury be­came ever clearer.

The death toll across the South stood at 14 in­clud­ing the vic­tim dis­cov­ered in Mex­ico Beach.

Mi­ami Fire Chief Joseph Zahral­ban, leader of a search-and-res­cue unit that went into the flat­tened town, said: “We have one con­firmed de­ceased and are work­ing to de­ter­mine if there are oth­ers.” Zahral­ban said searchers were try­ing to de­ter­mine if that per­son had been alone or was part of a fam­ily.

Zahral­ban spoke as his team — which in­cluded a dog — was wind­ing down its two-day search of Mex­ico Beach, the town of about 1,000 peo­ple that was nearly wiped off the map when Michael blew ashore there Wednesday with dev­as­tat­ing 155 mph winds.

Blocks and blocks of homes were de­mol­ished, re­duced to splin­tered lum­ber or mere con­crete slabs by the most pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane to hit the con­ti­nen­tal U.S. in nearly 50 years.

As the catastrophic dam­age across the Florida Pan­han­dle came into view 48 hours af­ter the hur­ri­cane struck, there was lit­tle doubt the death toll would rise.

How high it might go was un­clear. But au­thor­i­ties scrapped plans to set up a tem­po­rary morgue, sug­gest­ing they had yet to see mass ca­su­al­ties.

State of­fi­cials said that by one count, 285 peo­ple in Mex­ico Beach de­fied manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­ders and stayed be­hind. Some of them suc­cess­fully rode out the storm. It was un­clear how many of the oth­ers might have got­ten out at the last minute.

Emer­gency of­fi­cials said they have re­ceived thou­sands of calls ask­ing about miss­ing peo­ple.

But with cell­phone ser­vice out across vast swaths of the Florida Pan­han­dle, of­fi­cials said it is pos­si­ble that some of those un­ac­counted for are safe and just haven’t been able to contact friends or fam­ily.

DAVID GOLD­MAN/AP

Hec­tor Mo­rales sits on a de­bris pile Fri­day near his home, which was de­stroyed by Hur­ri­cane Michael in Mex­ico Beach, Florida. “I lost ev­ery­thing,” Mo­rales said.

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