Hurricane Michael Update: Bodies Found on Florida's Mexico Beach; Toll Had Already Reached 13

Ron Brackett
Published: October 12, 2018

Hurricane Michael continued its rampage through the mid-Atlantic early Friday morning after ravaging parts of the Florida Panhandle, Georgia and the Carolinas, spawning deadly floods that rose so fast that there was little time to evacuate. At least 13 deaths have been blamed on the powerful storm – four in Florida, three in North Carolina, one in Georgia and five in Virginia.

That number is almost certain to rise after Miami Fire Chief Joseph Zahralban, leader of a search-and-rescue unit, told the Associated Press that crews were finding bodies in and around Mexico Beach, the Florida Panhandle town nearly obliterated by the hurricane.

"There are individuals who are deceased. We do not have a count, but we are working to identify them," Zahralban said.

Florida emergency officials earlier said they have received thousands of calls asking about missing people. But with cellphone service down for much of the area, 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, officials said.

Michael made landfall as a high-end Category 4 storm on the Florida Panhandle Wednesday, smashing towns to rubble. On Thursday, the Carolinas and Georgia saw trees knocked down, hundreds of thousands without power, and roads closed by standing water. Evacuations were ordered in Irmo, South Carolina, after multiple homes took on water.

The storm's downpours flooded homes in Virginia on Thursday and led to water rescues and numerous flash flood emergencies later in the day. Serious coastal flooding was also reported overnight along North Carolina's Outer Banks, where some residents had to be evacuated as floodwaters inundated roads and homes.

(MORE: The Victims of Hurricane Michael)

In Florida, from Panama City through Mexico Beach — where the storm made landfall — and into Apalachicola, houses were swamped or blown apart, roofs were ripped off, boats sank and trees toppled in the high winds. Aerial images at Mexico Beach Thursday morning showed extreme damage, with homes swept completely off their foundations and destroyed and few properties left standing along the coast.

"Mexico Beach took the brunt," FEMA Administrator Brock Long said. "That’s probably ground zero."

More than 1.5 million homes and businesses lost power because of the storm, according to PowerOutage.us.

Florida

Homeowners told to stay away: Authorities said with so many search and rescue missions ongoing and widespread extreme damage, it's too early for homeowners to return to survey the damage. "It's still not safe to return, particularly to Bay County, Florida," Long said Friday.

Deaths reported: Four people were killed in Florida's Gadsden County, according to Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Anglie Hightower. One of them was Steve Sweet, 44, who died when a tree slammed into his Gretna home. Details were not available on the other three deaths.

Food and water airdrops happening: Gov. Rick Scott said in a Friday morning tweet that helicopters are dropping emergency food and water supplies into the towns hit hardest by the storm.

Psychiatric hospital cut off: In the town of Chattahoochee, the Florida State Hospital, which is the state's largest and oldest psychiatric hospital, was inaccessible in the wake of Michael, according to the Miami Herald. The facility's 975 residents and 325 staffers had ample supplies, especially after food and water drops via helicopter, but the hospital lost all communication with the outside world, the report added.

(MORE: How to Help the Victims of Hurricane Michael)

Two Panama City hospitals evacuateBay Medical Sacred Heart began evacuating patients about 3 a.m. Thursday after the hospital was damaged by the hurricane on Wednesday. Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center also was damaged and began moving patients on Thursday. Both hospitals said their emergency rooms would remain open.

Major damage reported at Tyndall Air Force Base: The base, which sits across the bay from Panama City, posted on its Facebook page Thursday that the base had widespread catastrophic damage. The post also said there was roof damage to nearly every house on the base. No injuries were reported. A wind gust of 129 mph was measured at the base. Base personnel had been ordered to evacuate on Monday. The Facebook post said evacuees should plan on being away for an extended time.

Devastation in Mexico Beach: Images from Mexico Beach showed widespread devastation with homes reduced to kindling and roofs lying in the middle of U.S. 98. Storm surge lapped at roof eaves. Mayor Al Cathey, 71, told the Tampa Bay Times, "We’re broken here. This devastation is beyond. I think it’s sort of obvious we need some help."

Dozens Didn't Flee: State officials said as many as 285 Mexico Beach residents chose not to obey evacuation orders ahead of the storm. The National Guard was able to rescue about 20 people overnight, but it was unknown how many residents were missing, or if there were any deaths.

(PHOTOS: Before and After Images Show Michael's Devastation)

A warehouse of boats is seen damaged at Treasure Island Marina in Panama City Beach, Florida, after Hurricane Michael made landfall along the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018.
(Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Panama City residents feel wrath of Michael: Vance Beu, 29, was staying with his mother at her Panama City apartment when a pine tree slashed through the roof. Beu said the roar of the storm sounded like a jet engine as the winds accelerated. "It was terrifying, honestly. There was a lot of noise. We thought the windows were going to break at any time. We had the inside windows kind of barricaded in with mattresses," Beu said.

Apalachicola suffers heavy damage: Sally Crown, who rode out the storm in her house, ventured out after the storm had passed. "It's absolutely horrendous. Catastrophic," she said. "There's flooding. Boats on the highway. A house on the highway. Houses that have been there forever are just shattered."

Trees downed across capital city: In Tallahassee, the power loss from Michael surpassed the loss from Hermine over two years ago, according to Mayor Andrew Gillum. Nearly all customers citywide were in the dark on Thursday. Gillum urged patience and optimism from residents as the city works through its recovery. "I'm counting our many, many blessings. This storm for us certainly was not as bad for us as it could have been."

Building permit fees waived: Leon County officials said Friday morning that all building permit fees will be waived for storm-related repairs in the wake of the storm. Homeowners and licensed contractors qualify for this special exception.

Federal disaster approved: President Donald Trump approved a major disaster declaration for the state in the wake of the storm, making federal aid available for state and local response efforts.

Georgia

Agriculture decimated: With the harvest underway, many farms in South Georgia had their crops ravaged by the storm. "Our worst dreams are being realized," Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black told reporters Thursday morning. Black told AJC.com that he expects the losses to exceed $1 billion to crops like cotton, pecans and fall vegetables, which were currently being harvested.

11-year-old girl killed: In southern Georgia, a girl was killed when a carport hit her home in Seminole County. The county coroner later identified her as Sarah Radney.

Numerous tornadoes reported: The National Weather Service said it had confirmed three tornadoes were spawned by Michael. An EF0 tornado touched down a couple of miles southwest of Atlanta and snapped several large trees. A high-end EF1 tornado touched down in Crawford County. Numerous trees were knocked down or uprooted. Several homes were damaged by falling trees, the NWS said. Damage was also found in Peach County that was thought to be caused by a brief tornado, but NWS said it wants to re-examine radar data to confirm it.

Thousands lose power: After its assault on Florida, Michael's wind and rain pelted southern and central Georgia, knocking out power and downing trees in the southwestern corner of the state. At the peak of the outages, about 350,000 homes and business were without power.

The Carolinas

Another storm brings flooding: Just weeks after being slammed by Hurricane Florence, the Carolinas are yet again seeing impacts from a tropical system. On Thursday morning, flooding was reported in parts of western North Carolina after hours of heavy rain overwhelmed rivers and streams. Several roads in Boone, North Carolina, were impacted the floodwaters Thursday morning, the city's police department tweeted. Gov. Roy Cooper said “dozens” of people were rescued from flash floods and rising rivers, the News and Observer reported.

Three deaths confirmed: A North Carolina man was killed Thursday after a tree fell on his car in Iredell County, north of Charlotte. He was later identified by WJZY-TV as 38-year-old Brian Cooper. Two others died in Marion, northeast of Asheville, when they crashed into a tree that had fallen into the roadway. "We extend our heartfelt sympathy to the loved ones and friends of those killed," said Cooper in a statement.

Homes flooded: Water rose knee-high and waist-high in communities near Columbia, South Carolina. At least 20 people were evacuated from their homes in Irmo, the State reported, and more than 40 homes had water in them, said Ben Smith, assistant chief of the Irmo Fire District. 

Virginia

Five killed in the floods: At least five people died in the state late Thursday and early Friday because of the flooding. One of the victims was identified as Lt. Brad Clark, who died in a crash while responding to a weather-related incident.

Flooded roads and water rescues At least 1,200 roads were closed and water rescues need as rain from Michael flooded southwest and central Virginia on Thursday, the National Weather Service reported, including Roanoke, Danville and southern Pittsylvania County, and Henry County. Hundreds of trees were down in Henry County, too. Reports said several had fallen on homes with people trapped inside. In Hanover County, emergency officials rescued a person after a tree fell on a house. Water rescues were also needed in Richmond.

'Once in a generation': "Yesterday was a once in a generation, perhaps lifetime, storm event for #DanvilleVA," said Danville Vice Mayor Lee Vogler in a Friday morning Facebook post.

Tornado warnings: James City County tweeted Friday that the National Weather Service had confirmed an EF-1 tornado touched down in the Norge area. The tweet said 32 homes were damaged, and no one was injured. Officials estimate damage to be at $1.8 million. More than a half dozen tornado warnings were issued Thursday evening for parts of southwestern and central Virginia.

- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.


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