Hurricane Michael’s death toll jumped to at least 11 Friday as shell-shocked residents across the Florida panhandle returned home to absolute devastation.
The violent storm roared across the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall Wednesday afternoon in Mexico Beach, Fla. with sustained winds of up to 155 mph — making it the strongest hurricane ever to target the region.
Michael continued on a brutal path of destruction as a tropical storm through Georgia and then into the Carolinas and Virginia, leaving a trail of death in its wake.
Virginia’s Department of Emergency Management Friday morning announced five deaths related to the storm, four of which stem from people being swept up in floodwaters. The fifth was a firefighter killed in a crash along a highway, which left three other firefighters seriously injured, officials with the state department told the Washington Post.
Authorities in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina had previously linked at least six deaths to the storm, among them 11-year-old Sarah Radney. She’d been visiting her grandparents in Georgia when Michael’s intense winds lifted up their carport and slammed it forcefully back into the home.
When it landed again, its legs ripped through the roof, fatally striking Radney. Another man outside of Tallahassee became the first fatality earlier this week when he was hit by falling tree.
Hurricane Michael, one of the most powerful storms to strike the United States, departed the east coast early Friday morning — though there is still days of misery ahead, officials said.
“The remnants of Tropical Storm Michael continue to impact large portions of the Commonwealth this morning,” the Virginia’s Department of Emergency Management warned in a tweet. “Flooding, downed trees, closed roads, and debris will impact the morning commute and one-half million Virginians are without power this morning.”
In total, nearly 1.5 million were left without power across the Southeast, including another 425,000 in North Carolina and more than 350,000 in Florida.
Scores of beachfront homes in Florida were ripped apart, in some areas entire blocks were left flattened by Hurricane Michael. The category four storm downed power lines and split trees and brought with it devastating rainfall and storm surges that left many homes completely flooded.
Linda Marquardt, who decided to ride out the hurricane with her husband, was forced to flee to the upper floor of her home when surging ocean water started flooding in.
“All of my furniture was floating,” the 67-year-old said. “A river just started coming down the road. It was awful and now there’s just nothing left.”
Many of the hardest hit regions, including Mexico Beach — the epicenter of Michael’s fury — have yet to report fatalities.
Emergency workers have only just begun the rescue and recovery efforts, clearing away the rubble and debris blocking their paths to potential residents in need. Thousands of National Guard troops joined local law enforcement and rescue teams in their search for survivors Friday morning.
“I expect the fatality to come up today. I expect it to come up tomorrow as well,” FEMA chief Brock Long said in an interview with CNN. “Hopefully it doesn’t rise dramatically, but it is a possibility.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Friday urged the thousands of residents who evacuated ahead of the hurricane to wait to return home until rescue workers can complete their task.
“So many lives have been changed forever,” he said. “So many families have lost everything.
With News Wire Services