Hur­ri­cane Michael’s toll: At least 3 dead, 360,000 in dark and towns wiped out

Lodi News-Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Jenny Staletovich, David Ovalle and Sa­man­tha Gross

MI­AMI — The aw­ful toll has yet to be cal­cu­lated, but Hur­ri­cane Michael’s dam­age is likely to be mas­sive along the Pan­han­dle and Florida’s For­got­ten Coast, now a hellscape of flat­tened neigh­bor­hoods, ru­ined busi­nesses and up­ended lives.

At ground zero where Michael crashed ashore in Mex­ico Beach, house af­ter house was razed to con­crete slabs and piles of splin­tered wood. The place looked eerily like South Dade af­ter Hur­ri­cane An­drew. He­li­copters hov­ered over the state’s largest men­tal hos­pi­tal in Chat­ta­hoochee, drop­ping food and water af­ter the storm left pa­tients and staff stranded with­out power, com­mu­ni­ca­tions or a way out.

And in Panama City, pow­er­ful winds top­pled train cars com­pletely off the old Bay Line rail­road tracks.

As evac­uees and util­ity trucks strug­gled Thurs­day af­ter­noon to en­ter the city, the largest in the area with a pop­u­la­tion of just 37,000, a four-mile traf­fic jam formed.

“It’s like a bad dream,” said Deb­o­rah Adams, 28, who cleans con­dos on the beach and moved to the area two years ago with her two chil­dren in search of bet­ter-pay­ing work. “Like the whole city is gone.”

At least three deaths were blamed on the storm: a man killed out­side Tal­la­has­see by a fall­ing tree, an 11-year-old girl in South­west Ge­or­gia killed af­ter winds blew a car­port through her roof, and a driver killed by a tree in North Carolina. But the num­ber is likely to climb. CNN re­ported the count had risen to six by day’s end. Gov. Rick Scott’s of­fice said ad­di­tional deaths would need to be con­firmed by a med­i­cal examiner.

Af­ter tour­ing the dam­age zone, Scott cau­tioned evac­uees to stay away un­til emer­gency crews cleared the area. “I know you just want to go home,” he said. But “we have to make sure things are safe.”

When it made land­fall, Michael was pack­ing 155 mph sus­tained winds, the strong­est ever recorded for the Pan­han­dle. It’s pos­si­ble the storm will go down as the fourth most pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane to strike the U.S. af­ter fore­cast­ers com­plete their anal­y­sis. As of late Thurs­day, power had been knocked out to nearly a mil­lion homes in the storm’s path, in­clud­ing more than 360,000 homes and busi­nesses in Florida.

In Panama City, Michael meted out in­dis­crim­i­nate dam­age.

Charles Burgess holed up in his Pawa­day Inn with a dozen dogs, two cats and sev­eral staffers, think­ing the con­crete block build­ing could sur­vive fierce winds. But as the storm roared, the struc­ture col­lapsed.

“The roof caved in. Then the walls caved in,” said Burgess, who fled with his staff and most of the an­i­mals to an in­ner room. One cat was killed and an­other an­i­mal re­mained miss­ing.

Near ground zero in Mex­ico Beach, where the Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter said pound­ing storm surge reached 9 feet, Michael lev­eled en­tire blocks. The Na­tional Guard res­cued 20 peo­ple Wed­nes­day night and the search for oth­ers con­tin­ued. At least 285 peo­ple had re­fused to leave, of­fi­cials said.

Top­pled trees, re­frig­er­a­tors, toi­lets and stair­cases no longer con­nected to houses lit­tered the low-slung beach town with a pop­u­la­tion of just 1,200. Cars and SUVs were tossed on their sides. Houses were cracked open to re­veal sodden fur­ni­ture and wrecked be­long­ings.

Dam­age sur­veys were just be­gin­ning but de­struc­tion was wide­spread. Michael left build­ings smashed, trees top­pled or stripped bare and boats tossed ashore along its path. At the Tyn­dall Air Force Base, about 15 miles north­west of Mex­ico Beach, the mon­ster storm pushed over trucks and peeled back the roof of a mas­sive air­plane hangar. Many fighter planes had been moved to Ohio ear­lier in the week but news crews spot­ted at least a few flipped and man­gled.

Panama City looked like a war zone, as he­li­copters hov­ered over streets lit­tered with de­bris and omi­nous re­minders of past hur­ri­canes. The top­pled train was rem­i­nis­cent of the 1935 La­bor Day hur­ri­cane that struck the Keys. High­rises had walls peeled away. At the Pi­rate’s Cove Ma­rina, boats were heaped in piles af­ter Michael shred­ded a dry dock ware­house.

Just more than 3,500 peo­ple re­mained in shel­ters Thurs­day, about half the num­ber who sought refuge overnight. An­other 1,768 were stay­ing in spe­cial needs shel­ter fa­cil­i­ties.

Of­fi­cials said the stag­ger­ing num­ber of peo­ple who did not take shel­ter could be newly home­less, and the state ex­pects a mas­sive surge in short-term and long-term hous­ing needs.

Scott said no dam­age es­ti­mates were avail­able, but be­fore the storm, real es­tate an­a­lyst CoreLogic said about 57,000 homes and con­dos were at risk of dam­age. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump also de­clared a disas­ter in coun­ties hard­est hit by the storm just be­fore noon Thurs­day, free­ing up ad­di­tional fed­eral money for relief ef­forts.

PE­DRO POR­TAL/MI­AMI HER­ALD

A home de­stroyed in Panama City, Fla., the day af­ter Hur­ri­cane Michael landed in the Florida Pan­han­dle, on Thurs­day.

PE­DRO POR­TAL/MI­AMI HER­ALD

A food truck is turned over and a car is stuck in a flooded com­mer­cial park­ing lot in Panama City, Fla., the day af­ter Hur­ri­cane Michael landed in the Florida Pan­han­dle, on Thurs­day.

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