Hur­ri­cane death toll climbs as help rolls in

Metro area agency among those send­ing sup­plies to South

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY GE­ORGE HUNTER The De­troit News AND RUSS BYNUM AND BREN­DAN FAR­RING­TON Associated Press

Mex­ico Beach, Fla. — Searc­hand-res­cue teams be­gan find­ing bod­ies in and around 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. But he gave no de­tails on the num­ber of dead.

The death toll across the South stood at 13, not count­ing any vic­tims in Mex­ico Beach.

Blocks and blocks of homes there 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.

Res­i­dents, mean­while, be­gan to come to grips with the de­struc­tion and face up to the un­cer­tainty that lies ahead.

Greg Kopicko of Owosso said his daugh­ter Bri­anna rode out the storm hud­dled for six hours in the bath­tub of her home in Panama City Beach, Florida, her 6-day-old daugh­ter Kelly in her arms, and her other young chil­dren, ages 2 and 3, pressed

against her.

Bri­anna Kopicko, 22, and her chil­dren sur­vived the storm, her fa­ther said, but her house didn’t.

“She lost ev­ery­thing,” said Greg Kopicko, 47, of Owosso. “Their house was de­stroyed. So was the hos­pi­tal where Kelly was born. They’re headed to North Carolina to stay with my other daugh­ter un­til they can fig­ure out what to do next.”

With much of the South strug­gling, the leader of an Oak­land County non­profit is head­ing to the dis­as­ter zone in hopes of help­ing vic­tims.

Greg Martin, di­rec­tor of the Water­ford Town­ship-based non­profit Dis­as­ter Re­lief at Work, lived in Jack­sonville, Florida, from 2001 to 2005, and wants to con­nect with friends who aren’t an­swer­ing their phones in the storm’s af­ter­math.

“It’s hard get­ting a hold of peo­ple, be­cause many places don’t have cell ser­vice,” he said Fri­day. “Hope­fully, I’ll be able to con­nect with them when I’m down there.”

Martin said he plans to send a truck full of sup­plies to help hur­ri­cane vic­tims, and then meet the truck in Florida.

“We have a plan right now, but any time there’s a dis­as­ter of this mag­ni­tude, the plans can change from hour to hour,” he said. “(Satur­day), we’ll fill up a semi to send down to Florida, and then I’m go­ing to meet the truck down there. It’s tricky to co­or­di­nate, though, be­cause they don’t have cell phone ser­vice or elec­tric­ity in many places. We usu­ally con­nect with the lo­cal agen­cies, but right now they’re kind of spin­ning their wheels.”

Martin said his re­sources are stretched thin. “Our ware­house is pretty de­pleted be­cause we just sent a bunch of sup­plies to the Caroli­nas af­ter Hur­ri­cane Florence.”

Across the rav­aged re­gion, of­fi­cials set up dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ters to hand out food and wa­ter to vic­tims. Some sup­plies were brought in by trucks, while oth­ers had to be de­liv­ered by he­li­copter be­cause roads had yet to be cleared of de­bris.

Pres­i­dent Trump an­nounced plans to visit Florida and hard-hit Ge­or­gia next week but didn’t say what day he would ar­rive.

“We are with you!” he tweeted. Search teams con­tin­ued to pick their way through the ru­ins of Mex­ico Beach, the ground-zero town of about 1,000 peo­ple that was nearly wiped off the map when Michael blew ashore.

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.

Greg Kopicko said it was tough wait­ing it out Thurs­day, 1,000 miles away and un­able to reach his daugh­ter be­cause of bad cell phone re­cep­tion.

“I had told her ‘if you’re ever in a hur­ri­cane, the safest place to go is the bath­tub,’ ” he said. “Then I couldn’t get in touch with her. I was ready to drive down there, I was so wor­ried. I didn’t get to talk to her un­til about 9 (p.m.).

“She got out of the hos­pi­tal with the baby just in time to go home and get into the eye of the storm,” said Kopicko, who joked his daugh­ter should have named the child “Kelly Michael.”

“My daugh­ter may have PTSD af­ter go­ing through that,” he said. “They all sur­vived it — that’s all that mat­ters to me. But they lost ev­ery­thing. They have no home to go back to. I told her to make sure she stays on the in­surance com­pany to see what was in­sured. It’s hard now, though, be­cause they’re try­ing to get sit­u­ated.”

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 to let them know.

Gov. Rick Scott said state of­fi­cials still “do not know enough” about the fate of those who stayed be­hind in the re­gion.

“We are not com­pletely done. We are still get­ting down there,” the gov­er­nor added.

Shell-shocked sur­vivors who barely es­caped with their lives told of ter­ri­fy­ing winds, surg­ing flood­wa­ters and homes crack­ing like eggs.

Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency chief Brock Long said he ex­pects to see the death toll rise.

“We still haven’t got­ten into the hard­est-hit ar­eas,” he said, adding with frus­tra­tion: “Very few peo­ple live to tell what it’s like to ex­pe­ri­ence storm surge, and un­for­tu­nately in this coun­try we seem to not learn the les­son.”

Martin’s agency sends out “buck­ets” that are tai­lored to spe­cific needs. He said he’s send­ing 400 of the buck­ets to Florida.

“We have dif­fer­ent buck­ets for dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions. We have a fam­ily bath­room bucket, which is bath­room sup­plies for a fam­ily of four. We have a post-flood clean­ing bucket, with clean­ing sup­plies. There’s a valu­able sal­vaging bucket, which is if you’re sort­ing through rub­ble and search­ing for your valu­ables; and a roof patch­ing bucket. They’re all cus­tom­ized.”

The agency is col­lect­ing do­nated ma­te­ri­als at the Cof­fee Bucket at 3549 Air­port Road in Water­ford. The shop is open Mon­day-Fri­day 6:30 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fri­day from 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; and week­ends from 8 a.m.-2 p.m.

Needed ma­te­ri­als in­clude: 5gal­lon buck­ets with lids, large tarps, heavy-duty trash bags, scrub brushes, Rub­ber­maid-style bins with lids, clothes­line (25 to 100 feet long), clothes­pins, cot­ton clean­ing cloths, dish soap, (16 to 28 oz. bot­tle liq­uid only), in­sect re­pel­lent spray, liq­uid laun­dry de­ter­gent (25-42 oz.), and rub­ber/la­tex palmed work gloves.

David Gold­man / AP

A body is re­moved from rub­ble Fri­day in Mex­ico Beach, Florida. The num­ber of dead in Hur­ri­cane Michael’s wake was ex­pected to rise.


This photo combo shows the Panama City neigh­bor­hood of Ivy Road Es­tates be­fore and af­ter Michael.

David Gold­man / AP

A man walks through the dam­aged his­tor­i­cal down­town dis­trict in Panama City on Fri­day.

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