Rescuers comb rubble of Florida beach communities for Hurricane Michael survivors

Rescuers will pick through the rubble of ravaged beach communities searching for survivors on Friday after Michael, one of the most powerful hurricanes in U.S. history, slammed into the Florida Panhandle, killing at least seven people.

Michael struck Florida's northwest coast near the small town of Mexico Beach on Wednesday afternoon with top sustained winds of 250 km/h, pushing a wall of seawater inland and causing widespread flooding.

The interior of a Family Dollar Store that had the storefront ripped off is seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Millville, Fla. The storm tore entire neighbourhoods apart, reducing homes and businesses to piles of wood. (Emily Kask/AFP/Getty Images)

The storm tore entire neighbourhoods apart, reducing homes and businesses to piles of wood and siding, damaging roads and leaving scenes of devastation that resembled the aftermath of a carpet-bombing operation.

U.S. Army personnel used heavy equipment to push a path through debris in Mexico Beach to allow rescuers through to search for trapped residents, survivors or casualties, as Blackhawk helicopters circled overhead. Rescuers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) used dogs, drones and GPS in the search.

1,000 homes destroyed in Port St. Joe

"We prepare for the worst and hope for the best. This is obviously the worst," said Stephanie Palmer, a FEMA firefighter and rescuer from Coral Springs, Fla.

Much of downtown Port St. Joe, 19 kilometres east of Mexico Beach, was flooded after Michael snapped boats in two and hurled a large ship onto the shore, residents said.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott points out some damage caused by Hurricane Michael while flying over the Florida Panhandle Thursday. Michael was the third strongest storm on record to hit the continental United States. (Chris O'Meara/Associated Press)

"We had houses that were on one side of the street and now they're on the other," said Mayor Bo Patterson, who watched trees fly by his window as he rode out the storm in his home seven blocks from the beach.

Patterson estimated 1,000 homes were completely or partially destroyed in his town of 3,500 people.

'This one kicked our butt'

Jordon Tood, 31, a charter boat captain in Port St. Joe, said: "There were mandatory evacuation orders, but only idiots like us stuck around."

"This was my sixth [hurricane], so I thought I was prepared," he said.

Boats are pictured ashore following Hurricane Michael in Port St. Joe, Fla. At least seven people were killed by the storm. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

In Apalachicola, about 48 kilometres east of where the storm made landfall, a little less than half of the 2,200 people stayed and rode out the storm, residents said.

"I've never seen anything like this craziness," said Tamara's café owner Danny Itzkovitz, 54, as he was busy grilling burgers. "We've had storms before — in '05 we had four or five in a row. I didn't even take the boards off my window. But, holy smokes, this one kicked our butt."

Checking door to door

The storm peeled back part of the gym roof and tore off a wall at Jinks Middle School in Panama City. A year ago, the school welcomed students and families displaced by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

"I have had employees going to the communities where our kids live, going door to door and checking," Principal Britt Smith said by phone. "I have been up since 3:30 or 4 a.m. emailing and checking on staff to see if they are safe. So far, everybody seems to be very safe."

An American flag flies amongst rubble left in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla. Almost 1.2 million homes and businesses were without power Thursday because of the storm. (Jonathan Bachman/Reuters)

With a low barometric pressure recorded at 919 millibars, a measure of a hurricane's force, Michael was the third strongest storm on record to hit the continental United States, behind only Hurricane Camille on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1969 and the Labour Day hurricane of 1935 in the Florida Keys.

It weakened overnight to a tropical storm.

7 killed

Fast-moving Michael, a Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale when it came ashore, was about 25 kilometres northeast of Norfolk, Va, at 10 p.m. ET, with top sustained winds of 80 km/h as it headed for the Atlantic coast, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

It was toppling trees and bringing life-threatening flash flooding to areas of Georgia and Virginia, which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence, as it marched northeast.

Watch aerial footage of damage caused in Florida by Hurricane Michael:

Watch aerial footage of damage caused in Florida from Hurricane Michael's direct hit. 1:20

At least seven people were killed by falling trees and other hurricane-related incidents in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, according to state officials.

Emergency services carried out dozens of rescues of people caught in swiftly moving floodwaters in North Carolina.

Up to 20,000 in shelters

Many of the injured in Florida were taken to hard-hit Panama City, 32 kilometres northwest of Mexico Beach.

Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center treated some but the hospital evacuated 130 patients as it faced challenges running on generators after the storm knocked out power, ripped off part of its roof and smashed windows, according to a spokesperson for the hospital's owner, HCA Healthcare Inc.

Almost 1.2 million homes and businesses were without power from Florida to Virginia on Thursday because of the storm.

The number of people in emergency shelters was expected to swell to 20,000 across five states by Friday, said Brad Kieserman of the American Red Cross.

Brad Rippey, a meteorologist for the U.S. Agriculture Department, said Michael severely damaged cotton, timber, pecan and peanut crops, causing estimated liabilities as high as $ 1.9 billion US and affecting up to 1.5 million crop hectares.

Michael also disrupted energy operations in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico as it approached land, cutting crude oil production by more than 40 per cent and natural gas output by nearly a third as offshore platforms were evacuated.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

CBC | World News