The Florida panhandle is devastated. This part of the country will never again look the same as it did before Hurricane Michael swept through earlier this week. The official death toll in the U.S. has now reached 16, topping the 13 deaths reported in Central America.
Three people have died in North Carolina, seven in Florida, five in Virginia, and one in Georgia. The death in Georgia was an 11-year-old girl who was killed when a carport hit her home during the storm. The number of deaths will grow higher in coming days.
Miami Fire Chief Joseph Zahralban, who is leading a search-and-rescue unit, says that crews are finding bodies on Mexico Beach, where Hurricane Michael made landfall.
“There are individuals who are deceased. We do not have a count, but we are working to identify them,” he told The Weather Channel.
FEMA Administrator Brock Long said that Mexico Beach is “ground zero” for Hurricane Michael.
Florida emergency responders have already received thousands of calls about missing people. Cell phone service is down in almost the entire area where Michael landed, impeding communication among friends and family. Many of the missing people are expected to be located in the next days and weeks.
The worst devastation is in Florida, but Michael caused damage in Georgia and the Carolinas as well. Homes in Virginia have been flooded by the storm.
More than 1.5 million homes and businesses are without power as of Friday afternoon.
Because search and rescue missions are still ongoing and there is extreme damage throughout the Florida panhandle region, residents are being asked not to return to their homes yet.
“It’s still not safe to return,” says Brock Long. “Particularly to Bay County, Florida.”
The towns hit hardest by the storm began receiving food and water drops on Friday.
Unimaginable devastation in #MexicoBeach. These are before and after images showing the incredible damage caused by #Hurricane #Michael. Our crews are LIVE in Florida with the latest on recovery efforts. #HurricaneMichael pic.twitter.com/lkEg5Lhdy6— The Weather Channel (@weatherchannel) October 12, 2018
Several hospitals in the panhandle area are badly damaged, and the Tyndall Air Force Base suffered extreme devastation. There was damage to the roof of nearly every home on the base. Gusts of wind reached 129 mph around the base. No injuries or fatalities have been reported at Tyndall.
As many as 285 residents of the Mexico Beach area did not obey the evacuation order to leave the area ahead of Hurricane Michael. The National Guard have already rescued about 20 people from the area. As of Friday, it is unknown how many residents of this area are still missing or how many fatalities have occurred.
In Georgia, numerous fields and crops have been completely demolished.
“Our worst dreams are being realized,” said George Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black. He estimates that losses for crops including cotton, vegetables, and pecans will exceed $1 billion.
The total amount of destruction and death caused by Hurricane Michael is still unknown, and the news will only get worse in the coming days and weeks.