Rescuers in Florida Panhandle search for missing people, bodies after hurricane

US

LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (Reuters) – Rescue workers and volunteers searched for more than 1,000 people still missing in the Florida Panhandle and tens of thousands of residents remained without power on Tuesday after the area was devastated by Hurricane Michael last week.

Bernard Sutton, 64, picks through the remains of his home destroyed by Hurricane Michael in Fountain, Florida, U.S., October 15, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

At least 19 deaths in four states have been blamed on Michael which made landfall on Wednesday and is one of the most powerful storms on record to hit the continental United States.

Volunteer rescue organization CrowdSource Rescue said its teams were trying to find 1,300 people still missing in the disaster zone in the Panhandle, according to Matthew Marchetti, co-founder of the Houston-based group.

Debris are seen around a home damaged by Hurricane Michael in Fountain, Florida, U.S., October 15, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

An estimated 30 to 40 people remained unaccounted for in Mexico Beach, according to a city councillor, Rex Putnal. The town of about 1,200 residents took a direct hit from the hurricane. The town’s mayor has said that at least one person was killed while CNN reported that another person was found dead on Monday.

With most Mexico Beach homes already searched for survivors, rescue workers used dogs to find any bodies that might be buried under the debris.

More than 150,000 people were still without power in the U.S. Southeast, with residents of battered coastal towns such as Port St. Joe, Florida forced to cook on fires and barbecue grills.

At least 85 percent of customers in four mainly rural Panhandle counties were without electricity on Monday. Officials said it could be weeks before power returns to the areas that sustained the most damage.

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With top sustained winds of 155 miles per hour (250 kph), Michael hit the Florida Panhandle as a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale on Wednesday.

The winds and storm surge caused insured losses worth between an estimated $6 billion and $10 billion, risk modeler AIR Worldwide said. Those figures do not include losses paid out by the National Flood Insurance Program or uninsured property, AIR Worldwide said.

Water supply was restored to some in Panama City on Monday but Bay County officials said it was not yet safe to drink.

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump visited the storm-affected areas on Monday, arriving by helicopter from Eglin Air Force Base about 100 miles (160 km) to the west.

They then distributed bottles of water at an aid center in Lynn Haven, a city of about 18,500 people near Panama City in northwestern Florida.

“To see this personally is very tough – total devastation,” said Trump, who later traveled to neighboring Georgia to see storm damage there.

Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Terray Sylvester, Bernie Woodall in Florida, Makini Brice and Roberta Rampton in Washington, Rich McKay in Atlanta, Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Andrew Hay in New Mexico and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Will Dunham, Peter Cooney and Raissa Kasolowsky

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