PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — At least 17 people are reported dead in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, but authorities fear that the number could increase as search and rescue efforts continue.
TROPICAL STORM MICHAEL CURRENTLY
🌀 Center of Michael moving east northeast of Norfolk, Virginia
🌀 Transitioning to post tropical storm over Atlantic Ocean
🌀 Maximum Sustained Winds: 65 MPH
Nearly 1.1 billion people are without power as the storm triggered flash flooding in the Florida Panhandle and the Carolinas.
High winds, downed trees, streets inundated by rising waters and multiple rescues of motorists from waterlogged cars played out in spots around Virginia and neighboring North Carolina. And while forecasters said Michael was gradually losing its tropical traits, it was a new chapter would begin as an extratropical storm predicted to intensify with gale force winds once it starts to cross out into the Atlantic.
Thousands of National Guard troops, law enforcement officers and rescue teams still had much to do in the hardest hit area: Florida's Panhandle. Families living along the Panhandle are now faced with a struggle to survive in a perilous landscape of shattered homes and shopping centers, the storm debris spread far and wide.
In one community, Panama City, most homes were still standing, but no property was left undamaged. Downed power lines and twisted street signs lay all around. Aluminum siding was shredded and homes were split by fallen trees. Hundreds of cars had broken windows. The hurricane damaged hospitals and nursing homes in Panama City, and officials worked to evacuate hundreds of patients.
"So many lives have been changed forever. So many families have lost everything," said Florida Gov. Rick Scott, calling it "unimaginable destruction."
↓ Damage in Panama City after Hurricane Michael↓
An insurance company that produces models for catastrophes estimated Michael caused about $8 billion in damage. Boston-based Karen Clark & Company released that estimate Thursday, which includes privately insured wind and storm surge damage to residential, commercial and industrial properties and vehicles. It doesn't include losses covered by the National Flood Insurance Program.
SCHOOL CLOSINGS | Official list of school closings
A man outside Tallahassee, Florida, was killed by a falling tree, and an 11-year-old girl in Georgia died when Michael's winds picked up a carport and dropped it on her home, debris striking her in the head. A driver in North Carolina was killed when a tree fell on his car, and two others in the state were killed when they hit a fallen tree, according to Adrienne Jones, the deputy director for the McDowell County Emergency Medical Services.
In total, there have been five deaths in Virginia, eight in Florida, one in Georgia and three in North Carolina. Officials, however, expect the death toll to rise in the coming days.
Virginia storm updates as of 7 a.m today. 5 confirmed Michael-related fatalities. 520,000 without power. 1,200 closed roads. 5 suspected tornadoes.
— VDEM (@VDEM) October 12, 2018
Some fear the toll can only rise as rescue teams get around storm debris blocking roads and reach isolated areas.
BE PREPARED | ABC Action News Hurricane Center
STAY INFORMED | Download the ABC Action News App
ALWAYS STREAMING | Download the ABC Action News app for your streaming device
More than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast were ordered or urged to clear out as Michael closed in. But emergency authorities lamented that many ignored the warnings.
The Coast Guard said it rescued at least 27 people before and after the hurricane's landfall, mostly from coastal homes. Nine people had to be rescued by helicopter from a bathroom of a home in hard-hit Panama City after their roof collapsed, Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronald Hodges said.
BE INFORMED | Check your local tide times
USEFUL RESOURCE | Florida Division of Emergency Management
In hard-hit Mexico Beach alone, state officials say, 285 people in Mexico Beach defied a mandatory evacuation order ahead of Michael. The task ahead: finding and hopefully safely accounting for all those who stayed behind.
National Guard troops made their way into the ground-zero town and found 20 survivors initially Wednesday night, and more rescue crews are arriving. But the fate of many residents was unknown.
Mishelle McPherson and her ex-husband searched for the elderly mother of a friend. The woman lived in a small cinderblock house about 150 yards (meters) from the Gulf and thought she would be OK. The home was found smashed, with no sign of the woman.
"Do you think her body would be here? Do you think it would have floated away?" McPherson asked.