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Death toll from Hurricane Michael hits 18

Death toll from Hurricane Michael hits 18 but is expected rise dramatically as search-and-rescue crews look for 2,100 stranded or missing people

Death toll from Hurricane Michael hits 18

Blue sky and calm water belies the damage done by Hurricane Michael to the Mexico Beach, Florida, area

  • 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.

The Houston-based volunteer search-and-rescue network CrowdSource Rescue said its teams were trying to find about 2,100 people either reported missing or stranded and in need of help in Florida, co-founder Matthew Marchetti said.

Social media websites were crowded with messages from those trying to reach missing families in Florida's Bay and Gulf Counties.

Marchetti said his volunteer search teams, consisting mostly of off-duty police officers and firefighters, had rescued or accounted for 345 others previously reported to CrowdSource Rescue.

Michael crashed ashore near Mexico Beach on Wednesday afternoon as one of the most powerful storms in U.S. history, with winds of up to 155 mph. It pushed a wall of seawater inland, causing widespread flooding.

The tropical storm, which grew in less than two days into a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, tore apart entire neighborhoods in the Panhandle, reducing homes to naked concrete foundations or piles of wood and siding.

FEMA crews have been using bulldozers and other heavy equipment to push a path through debris so rescuers can sift the rubble using specially trained search dogs.

More than 1,700 search and rescue workers have been deployed, Governor Rick Scott´s office said in a statement, including seven swift-water rescue teams and nearly 300 ambulances.

Except for the emergency 911 system, authorities in Bay County, the epicenter of the disaster, were virtually without telephone or internet service until late on Friday, making communications internally and with the public difficult.

Ruth Corley, a spokeswoman for the Bay County Sheriff's Department, said local television stations were knocked off the air for two days, and authorities were relying on the Gulf State College radio station to transmit public service bulletins.

By Friday morning the storm remnants were about 275 miles southwest of Nantucket, Massachusetts, packing maximum sustained winds of 65 mph.

More than 940,000 homes and businesses on the U.S. East Coast were without power and it could be weeks before power is restored to the most damaged parts of Florida.   

Authorities are working to recover any bodies from the wreckage that they could not get to when the storm was raging. 

Energy companies are desperate to reconnect the 1million plus customers who have lost power and have taken to the skies in helicopters to survey the extent of the devastation and the results are sobering. 

Mexico Beach was described as Michael's 'ground zero' on Thursday by emergency workers. 'Mexico Beach took the brunt. That's probably ground zero,' FEMA Administrator Brock Long said. 

As camera crews flew over it on Friday including one belonging to CNN, stunned reporters remarked: 'It's gone. It's gone.' 

Residents in other areas described the terrifying conditions as the storm hit on Wednesday including in Georgia where they likened the noise of the looming hurricane to a 'train coming'. 

On Friday, Virginia's Department of Emergency Management said five lives been claimed in the state. They include four people who were swept away by flood water and a fire fighter who died in a highway crash.

The storm initially knocked out power to more than 1.2 million homes because of the storm.

After the storm had passed, under a clear blue sky, families living along the Florida Panhandle emerged from shelters and hotels to a perilous landscape of shattered homes and shopping centers, beeping security alarms, wailing sirens and hovering helicopters.

'So many lives have been changed forever. So many families have lost everything,' said Gov Rick Scott.

In a tweet, he described the damage as 'unprecedented'. 

'The damage we have seen from Michael is indescribable and unprecedented for the Panhandle. I have activated the Emergency Bridge Loan Program for small businesses damaged during Hurricane Michael so they can get back to work as soon as possible,' he said.  

Some of the worst damage was in Mexico Beach, where the hurricane crashed ashore as a Category 4 monster with 155mph winds and a storm surge of 9- feet.

Dawn Vickers, who decided to stay to ride out the storm but was forced to flee her home and take shelter in a condo, described it as the 'worst nightmare' of her life.  

'I don't even know if I have the words to describe it. It's been the worst nightmare I've ever been through in my life.

'I feel we will. It's very tough right now. They brought us here and left us at what was the gas station. We ran into some people who had a condo that was higher and dryer. 

'My home was taken off the foundation, cracked into, and was floating away with my cars,' she told CNN.



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