PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — Residents of hurricane-ravaged communities in Florida’s Panhandle turned to volunteers and each other for help Monday, the fifth day without cell service, electricity or, in many cases, shelter.
Trevor Lewis, a member of a six-person search-and-rescue unit, said he watched people “cry out in joy” when his team let them use its cellphones to contact loved ones for the first time in days.
“The amount of stress that people are in, not just from losing everything, but not having phones, power, food, water, puts a huge toll on the emotional factor of people stuck in these houses,” Lewis said. “And it really ups the ante a whole lot more.”
As President Donald Trump visited the devastated zone, the death toll from Michael’s march from Florida to Virginia stood at 17, with just one confirmed death so far in Mexico Beach, a town of about 1,000 people that was nearly wiped off the map in a direct hit from the hurricane and its 155 mph (250 kph) winds last week.
City Clerk Adrian Welle told local media that 46 people in Mexico Beach were still unaccounted for. That number had previously been 285, but officials think many left right before the storm hit.
- Hurricane Michael battered four states on Wednesday, killing 18 people and leaving 1.3million without power
- Florida accounts for 9 of the storm-related deaths, with 5 more in Virginia, 3 in North Carolina and 1 in Georgia
- Among the worst hit was Mexico Beach, a small coastal town which was almost entirely obliterated
- The death toll is expected to rise as rescuers go house-to-house and comb through the rubble
- Photographs show communities before Michael pummeled them with 155mph winds and after
- It will be weeks before people are able to return to their homes and officials fear the death toll will rise again
The death toll is expected to rise this weekend in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael as hundreds remain unaccounted for along the Florida Panhandle where decimated communities are cut off and in the dark.
As of early on Saturday, state officials were reporting that at least 18 have been killed in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.
Rescue teams, hampered by power and telephone outages, were going door-to-door and using cadaver dogs, drones and heavy equipment to hunt for people in the rubble in Mexico Beach and other Florida coastal communities, such as Port St. Joe and Panama City.
‘We still haven’t gotten into some of the hardest-hit areas,’ said Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Friday, noting that he expects to see the number of people killed climb.