As of Saturday morning, the official death toll from Hurricane Michael stands at 17, with victims from Florida to Virginia. But sadly that number is likely to be eclipsed as officials begin to tally those lost in Mexico Beach and nearby areas. Police in the devastated region, who attempted to collect a list of those who had decided to stay in advance of the storm, won’t yet say how many bodies have been found, or how many people they’re still looking for. But the chief of emergency services in Bay County, home to both Mexico Beach and Panama City, says that “a tremendous number” of people are still unaccounted for. Meanwhile, rains from the storm have again pushed rivers in North and South Carolina over their banks, reflooding areas that were drenched by Hurricane Florence. At least five people are dead as far north as Virginia, where Michael brought fallen trees, downed power lines, and heavy rains.
According to ABC News, most 911 calls in the area of the storm’s greatest impact are still going unanswered. Emergency services have prioritized the block by block search for the missing, and potentially injured, among the ruined houses and debris that remains in Mexico Beach and neighboring communities. The Coast Guard has rescued at least 60 people who were trapped in areas inaccessible because of flooding, debris, and washed out roads.
In Virginia, heavy rains from Michael brought dangerous flooding in near the city of Roanoke, where closing roads across the city and four people are known to have drowned. At least three storm-related deaths have been logged in North Carolina. The way in which Michael moved rapidly inland while still a strong Category 4 storm, brought hurricane force winds to areas that had not seen such a storm in at least a century, greatly increasing he number of downed trees and the amount of damaged infrastructure. Many of these areas also did not have building codes that required homes to be prepared for hurricane-force winds.
The Washington Post reports on members of a National Guard unit, many of them with family and friends in the area, entering Mexico Beach only to find that the “devastation was nearly unfathomable.”