Searchers find body in town struck by Hurricane Michael, with more expected
Aerial image of damage to homes and flooding after the arrival of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla.(JAMES E WYATT/ EPA / Rex / Shutterstock)
U.S. Customs and Border Protection crew conduct a search and rescue operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael among damaged homes and flooding in Panama City, Fla.(GLENN FAWCETT/ EPA / Rex / Shutterstock)
A body is removed after being discovered during the search of a housing structure in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla.(David Goldman / Associated Press)
Flyover of the Florida panhandle in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael shows a destroyed boat yard near Panama City, Fla.(GLENN FAWCETT / AFP/Getty Images)
Tom Bailey walks his bike past a home that was carried across a road and slammed up against a condo complex as Hurricane Michael passed through the area in Mexico Beach, Fla.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Rescue personnel perform a search in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla.(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
Storm-damaged boats in Panama City, Fla.(Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images)
A boat storage building is collapsed in Panama City Beach, Fla.(Chris O’Meara / Associated Press)
Mishelle McPherson climbs over the rubble of her friend’s home in Mexico Beach, Fla.(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
Gavin Conklin, 17, gathers water bottles from a neighbor’s refrigerator after Hurricane Michael destroyed the home in Panama City, Fla.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Hector Benthall, right, gets a hug from his neighbor, Keito Jordan, after a tree crashed onto Benthall’s home in Columbia, S.C.(Sean Rayford / Getty Images)
The overhang of a gas station is toppled over in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Inlet Beach, Fla.(Emily Kask / AFP/Getty Images)
Amanda Logsdon begins the process of trying to clean up her home after the roof was blown off in Panama City, Fla.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Kathy Coy inspects what is left of her home after Hurricane Michael destroyed it in Panama City, Fla. She said she was in the home when it was blown apart and is thankful to be alive.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Men cut a tree that fell on a vehicle in Panama City, Fla.(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
Phlomena Telker stands on what was her covered porch after hurricane Michael tore the roof off her home as it passed through the area in Panama City, Fla.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Bo Lynn’s Market starts taking water in the town of St. Marks, Fla., as Hurricane Michael pushes the storm surge up the Wakulla and St. Marks rivers, which come together in St. Marks.(Mark Wallheiser / Getty Images)
A woman and her children stand near a destroyed gas station after Hurricane Michael passes through Panama City, Fla.(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP/Getty Images)
People walk through the wreckage of a building after the arrival of Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla.(DAN ANDERSON / EPA / Shutterstock)
People walk through the wreckage of a building in Panama City, Fla.(Dan Anderson / EPA)
Mike Lindsey stands in his Panama City antique shop after Michael’s winds broke the windows.
(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Kaylee O’Brian weeps inside her home after several trees fell on it when Michael hit Panama City, Fla.(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
A hotel canopy collapsed on cars in Panama City Beach, Fla.(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
A hotel employee holds a glass door closed as it breaks from flying debris in Panama City Beach, Fla.(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
People look at a damaged store after Hurricane Michael hit Panama City, Fla.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
The Oceanis is grounded ashore by a tidal surge at the Port St. Joe Marina.(Douglas R. Clifford / Associated Press)
Haley Nelson stands in front of the remains of one of her father’s trailer homes after Michael hit Panama City.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
People walk among downed trees in a heavily damaged neighborhood in Panama City, Fla.(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
Mitchell Pope tries to salvage what he can from his mobile home after the Wakulla and St. Marks rivers overflowed in St. Marks, Fla.(Mark Wallheiser / Getty Images)
Cameron Sadowski walks through crashing waves as Michael’s outer bands hit Panama City Beach, Fla.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
People fill bags with sand at the Lynn Haven Sports Complex while preparing for Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla.(Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images)
Beach visitors await the approach of Hurricane Michael in Panama City Beach, Fla.(Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images)
Waves crash against the Malecon esplanade in Havana, triggered by the outer bands of Hurricane Michael.(Ramon Espinosa / Associated Press)
Krystal Day, left, leads a sandbag assembly line at the Old Port Cove restaurant in Ozello, Fla. Employees were hoping to protect the restaurant from floodwaters as Hurricane Michael continues to churn in the Gulf of Mexico heading for the Florida Panhandle.(Chris O’Meara / Associated Press)
The effects of Hurricane Michael are seen along the coastline of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo.(Alonso Cupul / EPA)
Carol Cathey spray-paints words on the plywood over her daughter’s business in preparation for Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Xavier McKenzie puts a 20-pound bag of ice into his family’s car in Panama City, Fla., as Hurricane Michael approaches.(Joshua Boucher / Associated Press)
Workers board up the windows of Marco’s Pizza in Panama City Beach, Fla.(Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images)
Workers scramble to store boats before the arrival of Hurricane Michael in St. Marks, Fla., south of Tallahassee.(Mark Wallheiser / Getty Images)
Search and rescue teams have found a body in the Florida Panhandle town nearly wiped out by Hurricane Michael, and authorities said there is little doubt the death toll will rise.
The tally of lives lost across the South stood at 14, including the victim found in the rubble of Mexico Beach.
Miami Fire Chief Joseph Zahralban, leader of a search and rescue unit that entered the devastated community, said: “We have one confirmed deceased and are working to determine if there are others.”
Zahralban said searchers, who were using a trained dog, were trying to determine if that person had been alone or was part of a family.
He spoke Friday as his team was winding down its two-day search of Mexico Beach, the town of about 1,000 people that was nearly obliterated by Michael’s storm surge and devastating 155-mph winds when the Category 4 hurricane made landfall Wednesday.
Michael was one of the most powerful hurricanes on record to ever make landfall in the U.S., and this Gulf Coast community was in its bullseye. While most residents fled ahead of the storm’s arrival, others stayed to face the hurricane. Some barely escaped with their lives as homes were pushed off their foundations and whole neighborhoods became submerged.
Hector Morales, a 57-year-old restaurant cook, never even thought of evacuating. His mobile home wasn’t on the beach but when it suddenly began floating during the hurricane, he jumped out and swam to a fishing boat and clambered aboard.
“I lost everything,” Morales said, "... but I made it.”
How many others were not so fortunate was still not clear.
State officials said that by one count, 285 people in Mexico Beach defied mandatory evacuation orders and stayed behind. It’s unclear if any of them got out at the last minute or had successfully ridden out the storm.
Emergency officials said they had completed an initial “hasty search” of the devastation, looking for the living or the dead, and had begun more careful inspections of thousands of ruined buildings. They hope to complete those inspections later Saturday.
They’ve received thousands of calls asking about missing people, but with cellphone service out across a wide area, they found it impossible to know who among those unaccounted for were safe but just unable to call out to friends or family.
Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator, Brock Long, said he expects the death toll will rise.
“We still haven’t gotten into the hardest-hit areas,” he said, adding with frustration: “Very few people live to tell what it’s like to experience storm surge, and unfortunately in this country we seem to not learn the lesson.”
By Friday, authorities had begun setting up centers to distribute food and water to residents, who were just coming to grips with the brutal realities of their situation.
“I didn’t recognize nothing. Everything’s gone. I didn’t even know our road was our road,” said 25-year-old Tiffany Marie Plushnik, an evacuee who returned to a home in Sandy Creek too damaged to live in.
Elsewhere, President Trump announced plans to visit Florida and hard-hit Georgia early next week but didn’t say what day he would arrive.
“We are with you!” he tweeted.
On the Panhandle, Tyndall Air Force Base took a beating, so much so that Col. Brian Laidlaw told the 3,600 men and women stationed at the base not to return. Many of the 600 families who live there had followed orders to pack what they could in a single suitcase as they were evacuated before the storm. The hurricane’s eyewall passed directly overhead, severely damaging nearly every building and leaving many a complete loss. The elementary school, the flight line, the marina and the runways were devastated.
“I will not recall you and your families until we can guarantee your safety. At this time I can’t tell you how long that will take, but I’m on it,” Laidlaw wrote. “We need to restore basic utilities, clear our roads of trees and power lines, and assess the structural integrity of our buildings.”
7:05 a.m.: This article was updated with the finding of a body in Mexico Beach.
This article was originally published at 12:35 a.m.
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