Search crews in Florida look for the dead and the living in Michael’s aftermath
Aerial image of damage to homes and flooding after the arrival of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla.(JAMES E WYATT/ EPA / Rex / Shutterstock)
People walk around the destroyed portion of Alligator Drive, in Alligator Point, Fla.(TAILYR IRVINE / Tampa Bay Times)
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)
Entire blocks were destroyed in Mexico Beach, Fla., two days after Hurricane Michael devastated the small coastal town just outside Panama City, Fla.(Pedro Portal / Miami Herald)
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)
The coastal township of Mexico Beach, Fla., population 1,200, lies devastated a day after Hurricane Michael made landfall.(Douglas R. Clifford / Tampa Bay Times)
A boat storage building is collapsed in Panama City Beach, Fla.(Chris O’Meara / Associated Press)
Damage from Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla.(SevereStudios.com)
Mishelle McPherson climbs over the rubble of her friend’s home in Mexico Beach, Fla.(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
Dr. Patricia Cantrell, left, and Ana Kaufmann with the South Florida Search and Rescue Task Force survey damage at the western edge of Mexico Beach, Fla.(Douglas R. Clifford / Tampa Bay Times)
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)
The storm surge retreats from inland areas, where boats lay sunk and damaged at the Port St. Joe Marina in the Florida Panhandle.(Douglas R. Clifford / TNS)
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)
Haley Nelson inspects damage to her family belongings after Hurricane Michael made landfall along Florida’s Panhandle in Panama City.(Pedro Portal / Miami Herald)
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)
A man walks through a flooded street in Panama City, Fla.(Dan Anderson / European Pressphoto Agency)
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)
A storm watcher takes photos of the surf and fishing pier on Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., as Hurricane Michael approaches.(Devon Ravine / Northwest Florida Daily News)
A satellite image of Hurricane Michael as it moves north-northwest over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico.(NOAA)
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)
Nick Severson carries his daughter, Aubrey, as they and others walk the beach in Destin, Fla. Waves from Hurricane Michael pounded the shoreline of this Florida Panhandle resort town.(Devon Ravine / Northwest Florida Daily News)
Workers scramble to store boats before the arrival of Hurricane Michael in St. Marks, Fla., south of Tallahassee.(Mark Wallheiser / Getty Images)
Florida authorities fielded a barrage of calls about people missing in Hurricane Michael’s aftermath as search-and-rescue teams Friday made their way through ravaged neighborhoods, looking for victims dead or alive. The death toll stood at 13 across the South.
The number of dead was expected to rise, but authorities scrapped plans for setting up a temporary morgue, indicating they had yet to see signs of mass casualties from the most powerful hurricane to hit the continental U.S. in nearly 50 years.
Search teams continued to pick their way through the ruins of Mexico Beach, the ground-zero town of about 1,000 people that was nearly wiped off the map when Michael blew ashore there on Wednesday with devastating 155-mph winds.
State officials said that by one count, 285 people in Mexico Beach defied mandatory evacuation orders and stayed behind. Whether any of them got out at some point was unclear.
Emergency officials said they have received thousands of calls asking about missing people. But with cellphone service out across vast swaths of the Florida Panhandle, officials said it was possible that some of those unaccounted for were safe and just haven’t been able to contact friends or family to let them know.
Gov. Rick Scott said state officials still “do not know enough” about the fate of those who stayed behind in the region.
“We are not completely done. We are still getting down there,” the governor added.
Emergency officials said they had done an initial “hasty search” of 80% of the stricken area, looking for survivors — and bodies.
Shell-shocked residents who barely escaped with their lives told of terrifying winds, surging floodwaters and homes cracking like eggs.
Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long said he expects to see the death toll 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.”
“When state and local officials tell you to get out, dang it, do it. Get out,” he said.
Officials, meanwhile, set up distribution centers outside big stores such as Walmart and Publix to pass out food and water to victims. Some supplies were brought in by truck, while others had to be delivered by helicopter because roads were still unpassable.
The deaths were spread throughout the storm’s vast path, from Florida to Virginia, where at least four people drowned in flooding caused by Michael’s rainy remnants. Two died in North Carolina when a car smashed into a fallen tree.
In the Panhandle, Tyndall Air Force Base “took a beating,” so much so that Col. Brian Laidlaw told the 3,600 men and women evacuated from the base days ago to stay away.
A small “ride-out” team that hunkered down as the hurricane’s eye passed directly overhead ventured out to find nearly every building severely damaged, many a complete loss. The elementary school, the flight line, the marina and the runways were devastated.
11:25 a.m. This article was updated with authorities raising the death toll to 13.
This article was originally published at 7:10 a.m.
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