Miami, Oct 14 (IANS) Amid the devastation caused by hurricane Michael, rescue operations in the southeastern US have focused on Mexico Beach and Panama City, two Florida towns that were nearly flattened and that could raise the death toll from the storm, which has taken at least 17 lives.
Florida Governor Rick Scott accompanied the National Guard on Saturday to survey the devastation by air, centering on the counties of Franklin, Holmes, Washington and Gadsden, in the northwestern part of the state, where Michael made landfall on Wednesday as a Category 4 hurricane, reports Efe news.
The search for victims has been slow because numerous roads and highways have been blocked by rubble or destroyed, while cell phone service outages have prevented authorities and family members from locating missing people.
The destruction has been especially severe in Mexico Beach, where the water, sewage and communications systems were destroyed, which could take months to repair.
“Not one single store is left,” Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey told the media.
Cathey himself had been unable to communicate with state authorities and has relied on satellite phones brought by media outlets.
Authorities have been inspecting every house and boat – or what is left of them – with the help of search and rescue dogs to find people who are unaccounted for.
Some 30 km west of Mexico Beach, the school gym of Panama City has become the symbol of the devastation caused by Michael in this Florida town, where residents began to return on Saturday to search for their belongings among the rubble.
So far, eight people have been reported dead in Florida, five in Virginia, three in North Carolina and one person was killed in Georgia.
Authorities, however, have not been able to identify any of the victims yet.
The death toll from Hurricane Michael is expected to increase, especially as rescue operations continue in Mexico Beach, one the hardest-hit towns.
Meanwhile, 750,000 homes and businesses continue to be without power in Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia.
Earlier this week, President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in Florida, which authorises the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate rescue efforts and make federal funding available to address the situation.