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Hurricane Michael: Hunt for survivors as death toll rises

SEARCH and rescue teams faced a second day of sifting through the ruined landscape left by Hurricane Michael as the death toll rose to 11.

After devastating coastal communities in the Florida Panhandle, the remnants of the storm, now downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone, killed five people as it passed through the US state of Virginia.

“Virginia storm updates as of 7am 5 confirmed Michael-related fatalities. 520,000 without power. 1200 closed roads. 5 suspected tornadoes,” the Virginia Department of Emergency Management said on Twitter.

Sarah Radney, 11, was killed while inside her grandparents’ Georgia home.

media_camera11-year-old Sarah Radney poses for a photo at her school. Picture: AP

Michael’s powerful winds lifted up the family’s carport and dumped it down on the house. One of the legs tore through the roof and fatally struck Sarah in the head.

The storm was over the open Atlantic, east of Norfolk, Virginia, early on Friday after levelling entire communities on the US Gulf Coast.

In Mexico Beach, a seafront town where the hurricane made landfall, houses had been razed by a storm surge, boats had been tossed into yards and the streets were littered with trees and power lines.

media_cameraA boat that capsized during Hurricane Michael is seen next to the docks in Panacea, Florida. Picture: AFP

Florida Governor Rick Scott said the storm had caused “unbelievable devastation” and the priority for the moment was looking for survivors among residents who failed to heed orders to evacuate.

“I’m very concerned about our citizens that didn’t evacuate and I just hope that, you know, we don’t have much loss of life,” Gov. Scott told ABC.

media_cameraA pedestrian struggles in the wind as he makes his way down Cherry Street in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Picture: AP

The US Army said more than 2000 Florida National Guard soldiers were working on the recovery operations.

Before the latest victims were reported, authorities had recorded four deaths in Florida’s Gadsden County, one in Georgia and one in North Carolina.

US President Donald Trump pledged to help storm victims.

media_cameraIn this aerial view, storm damaged boats are seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael on in Panama City, Florida. Picture: AFP

“Our hearts are with the thousands who have sustained property damage, in many cases entirely wiped out,” Mr Trump said. “We will not rest or waver until the job is done and the recovery is complete.” Officials said more than 400,000 homes and businesses were without electricity in Florida and 20,000 utility workers had been deployed to restore power.

Michael made landfall on Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 storm, the most powerful to hit Florida’s northwestern Panhandle in more than a century.

HOUSES STARTED FLOATING

It was downgraded to a tropical storm as it moved through the Carolinas, which are still recovering from last month’s Hurricane Florence.

By then, 250 kilometre an hour winds had razed numerous homes from their foundations in Mexico Beach, a town of around 1000 people, leaving just bare concrete slabs. Other houses were missing roofs or walls. Roads were impassable and canals were choked with debris.

media_cameraDamaged homes are seen after hurricane Michael passed through the area in Mexico Beach, Florida. Picture: AFP

A Mexico Beach resident who rode out the hurricane described the impact of the storm surge to CNN.

“When the water came in houses started floating,” said the man identified as Scott. “We had furniture in our house that wasn’t even our furniture. The surge had brought stuff in.

“There’s nothing left here anymore,” he said of the town. “Our lives are gone here. All the stores, all the restaurants, everything.

“It’s hard to grasp,” he said. “This was never in our imagination.” Nearby Panama City Beach experienced similar damage along with other communities along the shore of the Gulf of Mexico.

media_cameraA train is seen tipped over from storm winds in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida. Picture: AFP

A storage facility in Panama City Beach housing hundreds of boats was ripped apart by the strong winds with the roof shredding into strips of twisted metal.

Michael was the most intense hurricane to strike the Florida Panhandle since record keeping began in 1851. Based on its internal barometric pressure, Michael was the third most powerful hurricane to hit the US mainland, behind the unnamed Labour Day storm of 1935 and Camille in 1969.

Long said many Florida buildings were not built to withstand a storm above the strength of a Category 3 hurricane on the five-level Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

Originally published as Hunt for survivors as death toll rises

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