A sailboat upended by winds from Hurricane Michael is shown in this aerial photo Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, in Mexico Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Florida: Too soon for homeowners to return to disaster zone

Beachfront homes were so obliterated that only slabs of concrete remain

Linda Marquardt rode out Hurricane Michael with her husband at their home in Mexico Beach. When their house filled with surging ocean water, they fled upstairs. Now their home is full of mud and everywhere they look there’s utter devastation in their Florida Panhandle community: fishing boats tossed like toys, roofs lifted off of buildings and pine trees snapped like matchsticks in 155 mph winds.

Row after row of beachfront homes were so obliterated by Michael’s surging seas and howling winds that only slabs of concrete in the sand remain, a testament that this was ground zero when the epic Category 4 hurricane slammed ashore at midweek. The destruction in this and other communities dotting the white-sand beaches is being called catastrophic — and it will need billions of dollars to rebuild.

“All of my furniture was floating,” said Marquardt, 67. “‘A river just started coming down the road. It was awful, and now there’s just nothing left.”

At least six deaths were blamed on Michael, the most powerful hurricane to hit the continental U.S. in over 50 years, and by early Friday it wasn’t over yet: a tropical storm long after Wednesday’s landfall, Michael stubbornly kept up its punch while barrelling up the Southeast, dumping heavy rains and spreading flash flooding misery as far away as Virginia.

READ MORE: Trump prays for victims of Hurricane Michael

High winds, downed trees, streets inundated by rising waters and multiple rescues of motorists from waterlogged cars played out in spots around Virginia and neighbouring North Carolina. And while forecasters said Michael was gradually losing its tropical traits, it was a new chapter would begin as an extratropical storm predicted to intensify with gale force winds once it starts cross out into the Atlantic.

In North Carolina’s mountains, motorists had to be rescued Thursday from cars trapped by high water. High winds toppled trees and power lines, leaving hundreds of thousands without power. Flash flooding also was reported in the big North Carolina cities of Charlotte and Raleigh. Similar scenes played out in parts of Virginia as the storm raced seaward.

All told, more than 900,000 homes and businesses in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas were without power.

Meanwhile, thousands of National Guard troops, law enforcement officers and rescue teams still had much to do in the hardest hit area: Florida’s Panhandle. Families living along the Panhandle are now faced with a struggle to survive in a perilous landscape of shattered homes and shopping centres, the storm debris spread far and wide.

READ MORE: Hurricane Michael left path of destruction

In one community, Panama City, most homes were still standing, but no property was left undamaged. Downed power lines and twisted street signs lay all around. Aluminum siding was shredded and homes were split by fallen trees. Hundreds of cars had broken windows. The hurricane damaged hospitals and nursing homes in Panama City, and officials worked to evacuate hundreds of patients.

“So many lives have been changed forever. So many families have lost everything,” said Florida Gov. Rick Scott, calling it “unimaginable destruction.”

An insurance company that produces models for catastrophes estimated Michael caused about $8 billion in damage. Boston-based Karen Clark & Company released that estimate Thursday, which includes privately insured wind and storm surge damage to residential, commercial and industrial properties and vehicles. It doesn’t include losses covered by the National Flood Insurance Program.

And Michael also was deadly, both in Florida and beyond.

A man outside Tallahassee, Florida, was killed by a falling tree was the first of “4 storm-related fatalities” announced by the Gadsden County Sheriff’s office. An 11-year-old girl in Georgia died when Michael’s winds picked up a carport and dropped it through the roof of her grandparents’ home. A driver in North Carolina was killed when a tree fell on his car.

Some fear the toll can only rise as rescue teams get around storm debris blocking roads and reach isolated areas.

More than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast were ordered or urged to clear out as Michael closed in. But emergency authorities lamented that many ignored the warnings.

The Coast Guard said it rescued at least 27 people before and after the hurricane’s landfall, mostly from coastal homes. Nine people had to be rescued by helicopter from a bathroom of a home in hard-hit Panama City after their roof collapsed, Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronald Hodges said.

In hard-hit Mexico Beach alone, state officials say, 285 people in Mexico Beach defied a mandatory evacuation order ahead of Michael. The task ahead: finding and hopefully safely accounting for all those who stayed behind.

National Guard troops made their way into the ground-zero town and found 20 survivors initially Wednesday night, and more rescue crews are arriving. But the fate of many residents was unknown.

Mishelle McPherson and her ex-husband searched for the elderly mother of a friend. The woman lived in a small cinderblock house about 150 yards (meters) from the Gulf and thought she would be OK. The home was found smashed, with no sign of the woman.

“Do you think her body would be here? Do you think it would have floated away?” McPherson asked.

The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

B.C. oil tanker ban squeaks through final vote in Senate

Bill C-48 bars oil tankers from loading at ports on B.C’s north coast

Mill undergoing four-week shutdown

Canfor closing other mills as well

Fish ban plan on ice for now

Bulkley, Morice closures were on the table

Club buys mountain bikes for community use

Exercise and club growth are twin goals

Cut stumpage, keep people working, says Rustad

Reducing the carbon tax and stumpage fees might help out struggling forestry… Continue reading

Protesters rally in Victoria over newly approved Trans Mountain pipeline

The Still No Consent! No Trans Mountain! 20 kilometre march will end at Island View Beach

Wildfire burning in coastal forest

A fire beside the Sea to Sky Highway is burning up a steep slope

PHOTOS: Event marks one year since soccer team rescued from Thai cave

Nine players and coach took part in marathon and bike event to help improve conditions at cave

Rock climber dies after fall at Stawamus Chief in Squamish

The man had fallen about 30 metres while climbing in the Grand Wall area

Five B.C. students taken to hospital after playing with vaping device

School district said students were taken to hospital ‘out of an abundance of caution’

Being a pot dealer is not what it used to be

Sunday Big Read: the business of selling marijuana in B.C. is a slow bureaucratic slog

VIDEO: Two more pride flags have been stolen from Langley woman

Lisa Ebenal was “angry” and “fed up” after the latest theft. Then people started showing suppport

B.C. couple who has raised 58 children turns to community amid cancer diagnosis

Family who raised, fostered and adopted many kids hoping to gain some precious together time to fight cancer

Canucks acquire forward J.T. Miller from Lightning

J.T. Miller, 26, had 13 goals and 34 assists for the Lightning last season

Most Read