- Hurricane Michael battered four states on Wednesday, killing 18 people and leaving 1.3million without power
- Florida accounts for 9 of the storm-related deaths, with 5 more in Virginia, 3 in North Carolina and 1 in Georgia
- Among the worst hit was Mexico Beach, a small coastal town which was almost entirely obliterated
- The death toll is expected to rise as rescuers go house-to-house and comb through the rubble
- Photographs show communities before Michael pummeled them with 155mph winds and after
- It will be weeks before people are able to return to their homes and officials fear the death toll will rise again
The death toll is expected to rise this weekend in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael as hundreds remain unaccounted for along the Florida Panhandle where decimated communities are cut off and in the dark.
As of early on Saturday, state officials were reporting that at least 18 have been killed in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.
Rescue teams, hampered by power and telephone outages, were going door-to-door and using cadaver dogs, drones and heavy equipment to hunt for people in the rubble in Mexico Beach and other Florida coastal communities, such as Port St. Joe and Panama City.
‘We still haven’t gotten into some of the hardest-hit areas,’ said Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Friday, noting that he expects to see the number of people killed climb.
The tropical storm, which grew in less than two days into a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, tore apart entire neighborhoods in the Panhandle, reducing homes to naked concrete foundations or piles of wood and siding.
FEMA crews have been using bulldozers and other heavy equipment to push a path through debris so rescuers can sift the rubble using specially trained search dogs.
More than 1,700 search and rescue workers have been deployed, Governor Rick Scott´s office said in a statement, including seven swift-water rescue teams and nearly 300 ambulances.
Except for the emergency 911 system, authorities in Bay County, the epicenter of the disaster, were virtually without telephone or internet service until late on Friday, making communications internally and with the public difficult.
Ruth Corley, a spokeswoman for the Bay County Sheriff’s Department, said local television stations were knocked off the air for two days, and authorities were relying on the Gulf State College radio station to transmit public service bulletins.
By Friday morning the storm remnants were about 275 miles southwest of Nantucket, Massachusetts, packing maximum sustained winds of 65 mph.
When it landed, one of the legs tore through the roof, fatally striking Sarah in the head. It also hit her grandmother, puncturing her in the lung and breaking her rib.
Sarah’s father and stepmother, Roy and Amber Radney, said Thursday that Sarah loved being around her big family and made everything more fun.
Her grief-stricken father told The New York Times before she died that it was ‘just hell’.
‘Last night was just hell. I’m an hour and a quarter away, and my daughter’s dying, and I can’t do anything about it. I can’t think of anything that is more related to hell than that,’ he said.
He urged others to heed warnings when they are told to leave their houses.
‘I want people to know, man, when they say, ‘Get out of your house’ — leave your house, listen to them. When they say, ‘No first responder is going to be able to get to you’ — they’re not joking.’
Five people were killed in Florida after the storm devastated the state’s Panhandle.
They include Steve Sweet, a 44-year-old who died in his wife’s lap after an oak tree came crashing down on their home, crushing them both.
His wife Gayle was able to call her father and brother who came to the house and pulled her out from beneath the tree. They could not save Steve.
The damage at Bay Medical Sacred Heart included blown-out windows, a cracked exterior wall and a roof collapse in a maintenance building. No patients were hurt, the hospital said.
The state mental hospital in Chattahoochee, which has a section for the criminally insane, was cut off by land, and food and supplies were being flown in, authorities said.
Landlines and cellphones also were down to the complex, which has nearly 1,000 residents and more than 300 staff. They relied on emergency radios to make contact with first responders.
About two million ready-to-eat meals, one million gallons of water and 40,000 10-pound bags of ice are ready for distribution in Florida.