Hur­ri­cane wreck­age scoured for sur­vivors; death toll at 14

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

SPRING­FIELD, Fla. — The death toll from Hur­ri­cane Michael rose to 14 peo­ple Fri­day and was ex­pected to climb as emer­gency work­ers searched rub­ble and the storm’s grim con­se­quences stretched from the Florida pan­han­dle into Vir­ginia.

Res­cue teams were in the early stages of comb­ing a re­gion razed by a Cat­e­gory 4 hur­ri­cane that flat­tened blocks, col­lapsed build­ings and left in­fras­truc­ture crip­pled. Some of the hard­est-hit com­mu­ni­ties have yet to re­port any fa­tal­i­ties, and al­though of­fi­cials said they hoped they would find sur­vivors, a re­signed gloom was set­ting in through­out the disas­ter zone.

Dr. Jay Radtke, the med­i­cal ex­am­iner for some of the ar­eas of most con­cern, in­clud­ing Panama City and Mex­ico Beach, said he could not re­lease any in­for­ma­tion on the num­ber of dead in the six pan­han­dle coun­ties un­der his ju­ris­dic­tion. “We are swamped,” he said. “It’s a disas­ter zone down here.”

Au­thor­i­ties in Vir­ginia said five peo­ple had died, in­clud­ing sev­eral who had drowned and a fire­fighter who was re­spond­ing to an emer­gency call. Two other peo­ple were feared dead.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said two peo­ple — a man and a woman — were killed in McDow­ell County when their car hit a large tree that had fallen on the road. State and lo­cal of­fi­cials pre­vi­ously said a man in the state was killed Thurs­day when a tree fell on his car in Ire­dell County.

“We ex­tend our heart­felt sym­pa­thy to the loved ones and friends of those killed,” Cooper said in a state­ment.

Mean­while, the Ge­or­gia Emer­gency Man­age­ment and Home­land Se­cu­rity Agency on Fri­day morn­ing said a sec­ond per­son had died in the state. The agency de­clined to pro­vide ad­di­tional de­tails on the death beyond say­ing it oc­curred in Wayne County. On Wednesday, an 11-year-old girl, Sarah Rad­ney, was killed when a car­port was torn away and was sent hurtling into a mod­u­lar home in Semi­nole County.

At least 1.5 mil­lion cus­tomers were with­out elec­tric­ity from Florida to Vir­ginia.

Many health in­sti­tu­tions in Florida re­mained closed, in­clud­ing four hos­pi­tals, 13 nurs­ing homes and 14 as­sisted-liv­ing fa­cil­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion dis­trib­uted at a se­nior fed­eral lead­er­ship brief­ing Fri­day and shared with The New York Times. The fig­ures were slightly higher than those dis­trib­uted by Florida’s Agency for Health Care Ad­min­is­tra­tion. Sev­eral dial­y­sis cen­ters also were closed.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said he will visit Florida and Ge­or­gia next week. “Peo­ple have no idea how hard Hur­ri­cane Michael has hit the great state of Ge­or­gia,” he said on Twit­ter.

It has been a tough few weeks for the Caroli­nas. Af­ter thrash­ing the Florida pan­han­dle, Michael slogged through states still reel­ing from the ef­fects of Hur­ri­cane Florence last month.

Much of the coast of the Florida pan­han­dle, in­clud­ing Mex­ico Beach and Panama City, was dev­as­tated. The area is dot­ted with small, ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, some of them among the poor­est in the state.

FIRE­FIGHTER DIES

Most of the peo­ple who died in Vir­ginia were drown­ing vic­tims; an­other was a fire­fighter who had re­sponded to a car crash on an in­ter­state high­way.

The fire­fighter, Lt. Brad Clack of the Hanover County Fire-EMS Depart­ment, was one of four fire­fight­ers struck by their fire engine when a trac­tor-trailer slammed into it, push­ing the ve­hi­cle into the group, about 9 p.m. Thurs­day out­side Rich­mond, ac­cord­ing to the Vir­ginia State Po­lice.

Clack and the oth­ers were at the scene of a two-ve­hi­cle crash on In­ter­state 295 dur­ing the storm. The fire engine’s lights were on, and the roads were slick when the engine sit­ting on the side of the road was struck by the trac­tor-trailer, po­lice said. The truck driver suf­fered se­ri­ous in­juries, po­lice said, and charges were pend­ing.

The other three fire­fight­ers were taken to a hospi­tal in se­ri­ous con­di­tion.

One of the drown­ing vic­tims died in Char­lotte County, near the North Carolina bor­der, af­ter a car was swept away on a bridge Thurs­day night, ac­cord­ing to state po­lice. Two other peo­ple were in the car, with one res­cued and the other miss­ing.

Ear­lier Thurs­day, James King Jr., 45, was swept away in his car in flood­wa­ters in Pitt­syl­va­nia County in south­ern Vir­ginia around 3:30 p.m. and could not be res­cued de­spite the ef­forts of sher­iff’s deputies, state po­lice said. “The flood­wa­ters were too deep and too swift for them to main­tain contact with him,” po­lice said.

And two peo­ple were killed in Danville, Va., on Thurs­day when their cars were swamped in flash flood­ing. Wil­liam Lynn Tanksley, 53, died when the car he was in was swept away in fast-mov­ing wa­ter around 5 p.m., the Danville Po­lice Depart­ment said. A sec­ond per­son, whose iden­tity has not been made pub­lic, died around 10:20 p.m. when the per­son’s car got stuck in high wa­ter.

A mo­torist also was re­ported miss­ing in Not­toway County. The ve­hi­cle was re­cov­ered, but the driver had not been found.

As the death toll rose in Vir­ginia, au­thor­i­ties ex­pected more deaths to be re­ported far­ther south along the hur­ri­cane’s path.

“I ex­pect the fa­tal­ity count to come up to­day. I ex­pect it to come up to­mor­row, as well, as we get through the de­bris,” Brock Long, chief of the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency, said Fri­day in an in­ter­view with CNN. “Hope­fully it doesn’t rise dra­mat­i­cally, but it is a pos­si­bil­ity.”

HOR­ROR AND WON­DER

The sea­side com­mu­nity of Mex­ico Beach, where the storm made land­fall, was a flat­tened wreck. Across the small sport-fish­ing town, piers and docks were de­stroyed, fish­ing boats were piled crazily on­shore and res­i­dents wan­dered the streets in hor­ror and won­der.

“These were all block and stucco houses — gone,” the for­mer mayor, Tom Bai­ley, said. “The mother of all bombs doesn’t do any more dam­age than this.”

Long said emer­gency re­spon­ders were fo­cused Fri­day morn­ing on searc­hand-res­cue ef­forts in Mex­ico Beach and other hard-hit ar­eas, in­clud­ing in­land com­mu­ni­ties. Emer­gency re­spon­ders were ex­pected to com­plete all of the “ini­tial” search-an­dres­cue mis­sions by the end of Fri­day in both Florida and Ge­or­gia, he said.

The road to Mex­ico Beach be­came pass­able Thurs­day morn­ing, less than 24 hours af­ter Michael made land­fall, and it be­came ev­i­dent that few com­mu­ni­ties had suf­fered more. The town of about 2,000 per­ma­nent res­i­dents swells to as many as 14,000 in July, and is known for hav­ing a re­laxed feel com­pared with the brash tourist strips of Panama City Beach or the nearby beach de­vel­op­ments of Alys Beach or Sea­side.

“So many lives have been changed for­ever, so many fam­i­lies have lost ev­ery­thing,” Gov. Rick Scott of Florida said. “Homes are gone, busi­nesses are gone. Roads and in­fras­truc­ture along the storm’s path have been de­stroyed. This hur­ri­cane was an ab­so­lute mon­ster.”

Long was vis­i­bly frus­trated over re­ports that res­i­dents of the pan­han­dle coast had ig­nored state and fed­eral warn­ings to evac­u­ate be­fore the hur­ri­cane ar­rived. He said that an es­ti­mated 13-foot storm surge, not high winds, had re­duced homes to piles of wood and de­bris.

State of­fi­cials said that by one count, 285 peo­ple in Mex­ico Beach de­fied manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­ders and stayed be­hind. Whether any of them got out at some point was un­clear.

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

Across the rav­aged re­gion, mean­while, au­thor­i­ties set up dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ters to hand out food and wa­ter to vic­tims. Some sup­plies were trucked in, while oth­ers had to be de­liv­ered by he­li­copter be­cause of de­bris still block­ing roads.

Long asked for pa­tience, es­pe­cially in the area around Mex­ico Beach and Panama City as work­ers tried to clear streets, safely re­move downed power lines, and se­cure rup­tured gas lines.

One chal­lenge has been com­mu­ni­ca­tion, Long said, and of­fi­cials are work­ing to al­low wire­less com­pa­nies ac­cess to the ar­eas to re­store cell­phone ser­vice. It may be some time, he said, be­fore peo­ple can re­turn home.

“Bot­tom line, it was one of the most pow­er­ful storms the coun­try has seen since 1851,” he said. “It’s go­ing to be a long time be­fore they can get back.”

WAY OF LIFE SHAT­TERED

The storm surge in Port St. Joe, Fla., gut­ted Rex and Nancy Buzzett’s home of 44 years and scat­tered their other be­long­ings as far as two blocks.

“It busted through the win­dows, and once it did that, it floats the fur­ni­ture up,” said Rex Buzzett, a for­mer city com­mis­sioner in the Gulf Coast town of 5,000. “The fur­ni­ture rolls around in there like be­ing in a wash­ing ma­chine and bangs out ev­ery­where, try­ing to get out. The re­sults are there be­hind me.”

The Buzzetts re­turned home Thurs­day to find the storm had sent about 9 feet of wa­ter smash­ing into their house and their neigh­bors’

homes, which face the Gulf of Mex­ico across a nar­row coastal high­way. Win­dows shat­tered and brick walls crum­bled, and most ev­ery­thing in­side their home came spilling out.

De­spite its wing­span — trop­i­cal storm-force winds reached out 175 miles and hur­ri­cane-force winds 45 miles from the cen­ter — Michael largely spared neigh­bor­ing Apalachicola.

Though just 20 miles far­ther from the storm’s cen­ter, Apalachicola’s his­toric 19th-cen­tury homes sur­vived largely un­scathed — though some busi­nesses near the wa­ter flooded, tree limbs lit­tered the streets and yards, and a few burly oak trees top­pled.

“It up­rooted these huge trees, but that big house doesn’t have a speck of dam­age on it,” Judi Stokowski said as she cruised around Apalachicola on Thurs­day in the six-seat golf cart she uses for guided tours.

Stokowski’s 120-year-old home es­caped dam­age. Her golf cart weath­ered Michael out­doors and started right up af­ter the storm passed. Her gift shop, where she sells T-shirts and rub­ber al­li­ga­tors, wasn’t so for­tu­nate. Cloth­ing, hand­bags and cos­tume jew­elry got soaked by thigh-high storm surge that swamped the busi­ness dis­trict and left the streets thick with mud.

“It is what it is,” Stokowski said. “I’m just glad my house is all right.”

As for why Apala­chi­ola fared bet­ter, me­te­o­rol­o­gists noted that Port St. Joe was closer to the eye wall and ex­posed to higher winds. And be­cause of the shape of the coast­line and the storm’s track, Apalachicola may have been more pro­tected from the open Gulf.

But af­ter four decades of liv­ing on the wa­ter­front, the Buzzetts don’t plan to live any­where else.

“We’ll re­build on this spot, but we’ll have to bull­doze ev­ery­thing,” Rex Buzzett said. “We’ll build up higher. But how high?”

In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Richard Fausset, Alan Blin­der and Matthew Haag of The New York Times; by J. Free­dom du Lac, Mark Ber­man, Dana Hedgpeth and Eli Rosen­berg of The Wash­ing­ton Post; and by Russ Bynum, Bren­dan Far­ring­ton, Jay Reeves, Gary Fi­ne­out,Tamara Lush,Terry Spencer, Jen­nifer Kay, Freida Fris­aro, Jonathan Drew, Dar­lene Su­perville and Seth Boren­stein of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

AP/GER­ALD HER­BERT

An ae­rial view Fri­day shows just a lit­tle of the de­struc­tion at Mex­ico Beach, Fla. “The mother of all bombs doesn’t do any more dam­age than this,” the town’s for­mer mayor, Tom Bai­ley, said.

AP/DAVID GOLD­MAN

Joy Hutchin­son (left) is com­forted by her daugh­ter Jes­sica on Fri­day as she re­turns to find that her home at Mex­ico Beach, Fla., was swept away by Hur­ri­cane Michael.

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