20.6 C
New York
Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Restored phone service helps rescuers find missing after Florida hurricane

Restored phone service helps rescuers find missing after Florida hurricane© Reuters. Aerial footage taken by a drone shows the damage after Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida

By Brian Snyder

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – Rescue workers and volunteers searched on Tuesday for scores of people still unaccounted for in the Florida Panhandle as residents rejoiced at restored phone services and portable toilets after the area was devastated by Hurricane Michael last week.

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

Teams from the volunteer rescue organization CrowdSource were trying to contact hundreds of people reported missing in the disaster zone in the Panhandle, according to Matthew Marchetti, co-founder of the Houston-based group.

As cellphone service returned, the number of people unaccounted for in Mexico Beach, one of the hardest-hit areas, dropped to three, Rex Putnal, a city councilor, said in a telephone interview.

“Hopefully, they left and we’ll find them safe somewhere,” he said, before heading to a clean-up effort where workers awaited the arrival of some overdue portable toilets.

“This type of living wears on you,” Putnal said. “This is about my fifth day and I’m just not used to washing clothes in a tub with no washer and dryer and eating only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”

The mayor of the town of about 1,200 residents, which took a direct hit from the hurricane, said a second person, a woman, was found dead on Monday afternoon.

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

More than 200,000 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 80 percent of customers in three mainly rural Panhandle counties were without electricity on Tuesday. Officials said it could be weeks before power returns to the areas that sustained the most damage.

CAMPING IN TENTS

Countless residents in the region’s backcountry have struggled for days without electricity, running water or sanitation as they await help from authorities. Some have been camping in tents with the belongings they were able to salvage.

“I’m staying out here to try to keep away looters, to try to save what I can save,” said Bernard Sutton, a 64-year-old cancer patient, who has been living out of a tent and broken-down minivan.

“This is everything we own right here,” he said, standing over a heap of clothes, books, furniture and other belongings.

Access to those stranded by the storm was hampered by downed oak trees across highways and dirt roads.

“Everyone needs help,” said Gabriel Schaw, 40, gesturing to a handful of neighbors surrounding his own demolished mobile home in Fountain, Florida. “We’re devastated out here. We’re wiped off the map.”

The state government is distributing ice, water and about 3 million ready-to-eat meals, according to Governor Rick Scott’s office.

With top sustained winds of 155 miles per hour (250 km per hour), Michael slammed into 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 residents 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 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 the storm damage there.

Source: Investing.com

Related Articles

Stay Connected

11,299FansLike
12,893FollowersFollow
752FollowersFollow
- Advertisement -

Latest Articles

Popular Articles