This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
OK
#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 20 °C Thursday 6 August, 2020
Advertisement

Searchers find body in hurricane-stricken town but 'still haven't gotten into the hardest-hit areas'

The tally of lives lost stands at 14.

A search and rescue team walks past a debris pile from hurricane Michael
A search and rescue team walks past a debris pile from hurricane Michael
Image: David Goldman via PA Images

SEARCH AND RESCUE teams have found a body in the Florida Panhandle town nearly wiped out by Hurricane Michael, and authorities said there is little doubt the death toll will rise further.

The tally of lives lost across the South stands at 14, including the victim found in the rubble of Mexico Beach.

Miami Fire Chief Joseph Zahralban, leader of a search-and-rescue unit that entered the devastated community, said: “We have one confirmed deceased and are working to determine if there are others.”

Zahralban said searchers, who were using a trained dog, were trying to determine if that person had been alone or was part of a family.

He spoke Friday as his team was winding down its two-day search of Mexico Beach, the town of about 1,000 people who was nearly obliterated by Micahel’s storm surge and devastating 249 kph winds when the Category 4 hurricane made landfall Wednesday.

Michael was one of the most powerful hurricanes to ever make landfall in the US, and this Gulf Coast community of about 1,000 people was in its bullseye.

While most residents fled ahead of the storm’s arrival, others stayed to face the hurricane. Some barely escaped with their lives as homes were pushed off their foundations and whole neighbourhoods became submerged.

Hector Morales, a 57-year-old restaurant cook, never even thought of evacuating. His mobile home wasn’t on the beach but when it suddenly began floating during the hurricane, he jumped out and swam to a fishing boat and clambered aboard.

“I lost everything,” Morales said. “… But I made it.”

Tropical Weather Hector Morales sits on a debris pile near his home which was destroyed by Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Source: David Goldman via PA Images

How many others were not so fortunate was still not clear.

State officials said that by one count, 285 people in Mexico Beach defied mandatory evacuation orders and stayed behind. Though it’s unclear if any of those got out at the last minute or had successfully ridden out the storm.

Emergency officials said they had completed an initial “hasty search” of the devastation, looking for the living or the dead, and had begun more careful inspections of thousands of ruined buildings. They hope to complete those inspections later today. 

They’ve received thousands of calls asking about missing people, but with cellphone service out across a wide area, they found it impossible to know who among those unaccounted for were safe but just unable to dial out to friends or family.

Meanwhile, Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long said he expects the death toll will 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.”

Tropical Weather This aerial photo shows debris and destruction in Mexico Beach Source: BRONTE WITTPENN | Times

By Friday, authorities had begun setting up distribution centres to dole out food and water to victims, who just were coming to grips with the brutal realities of their situation.

#Open journalism No news is bad news Support The Journal

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support us now

“I didn’t recognize nothing. Everything’s gone. I didn’t even know our road was our road,” said 25-year-old, an evacuee who returned to a home in Sandy Creek too damaged to live in.

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

“We are with you!” he tweeted.

On the Panhandle, Tyndall Air Force Base “took a beating,” so much so that Col Brian Laidlaw told the 3,600 men and women stationed on the base not to come back.

Many of the 600 families who live there had followed orders to pack what they could in a single suitcase as they were evacuated before the storm. The hurricane’s eyewall passed directly overhead, severely damaging nearly every building and leaving many a complete loss.

The elementary school, the flight line, the marina and the runways were devastated.

“I will not recall you and your families until we can guarantee your safety. At this time I can’t tell you how long that will take, but I’m on it,” Laidlaw wrote. “We need to restore basic utilities, clear our roads of trees and power lines, and assess the structural integrity of our buildings.”

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

About the author:

Associated Press

Read next:

COMMENTS (2)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel