Hurricane Michael Live Updates: 13 Deaths in a Vast Trail of Destruction

Hurricane Michael Live Updates: 13 Deaths in a Vast Trail of Destruction
Before-and-after photos show how Hurricane Michael laid waste to a Florida beach community
Using heavy equipment to push aside debris and with helicopters circling overhead, rescuers in the Florida Panhandle searched for trapped residents as officials warned on Friday the death toll from Hurricane Michael was expected to rise.

At least 11 deaths in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia were attributed to one of the most powerful hurricanes in U.S. history slamming into Florida's northwest coast.

"I expect the fatality count to climb today and tomorrow," Brock Long, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), told CNN. "Hopefully it doesn't rise dramatically but it does remain a possibility."

Video: Help is arriving for Florida Panhandle devastated by Hurricane Michael

Virginia officials indicated early Friday that five people had died in the state. Jeff Caldwell, a spokesperson with the state's emergency management department, said four people drowned. A firefighter was killed when a tractor-trailer slammed into his fire truck while he was responding to a two-car crash in heavy storm conditions.

Those images form a marked contrast with what Mexico Beach looked like before the storm hit: an idyllic seaside town with sand, palm trees and homes looking out to the Gulf of Mexico.

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.

Some of the worst damage is plenty evident at Mexico Beach, a community located along the Florida Panhandle, where the storm first hit.

The sheriff's office in Gadsden County near Tallahassee, Fla., said it "can now confirm four storm-related fatalities following Hurricane Michael," all of which happened "in relation to or occurred during the storm." County officials say they're not releasing names or other details yet while families are notified.

Michael, the strongest hurricane to hit the continential U.S in. 50 years, has come and gone, leaving plenty of damage in its wake.

An 11-year-old girl in Georgia also died when Michael's winds picked up a carport and dropped it through the roof of her grandparents' home, and a driver in North Carolina was killed when a tree fell on his car.

Here are some before-and-after photos that illustrate the damage in Mexico Beach — swipe right for before, swipe left for after:

Michael struck Florida's northwest coast with particular force, with top sustained winds of 250 km/h, pushing a wall of seawater inland and causing widespread flooding.

The storm tore entire neighbourhoods apart in Mexico Beach, Fla., reducing homes and businesses to piles of wood and siding. Rescuers and residents were struggling to get into the town to assess the damage and search for the hundreds of people believed to have stayed behind.

Linda Marquardt rode out Hurricane Michael with her husband at their home in Mexico Beach. When their house filled with surging ocean water, they fled upstairs. Now their home is full of mud and everywhere they look there's utter devastation in their Florida Panhandle community: fishing boats tossed like toys, roofs lifted off of buildings and pine trees snapped like matchsticks in the roaring winds.

"All of my furniture was floating," said Marquardt, 67. "'A river just started coming down the road. It was awful, and now there's just nothing left."

Although weaker as it pushed over the southeastern United States, the storm carried high winds and delivered drenching rains to Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia. It killed at least 12 people in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia, officials said.

U.S. army personnel used heavy equipment to push a path through debris in Mexico Beach to allow rescuers through to search for trapped residents, survivors or casualties, as Blackhawk helicopters circled overhead. Rescuers from FEMA used dogs, drones and GPS in the search.

Michael severely damaged cotton, timber, pecan and peanut crops, causing estimated liabilities as high as $1.9 billion and affecting up to 3.7 million crop acres (1.5 million hectares), said Brad Rippey, a meteorologist for the U.S. Agriculture Department.

"We prepare for the worst and hope for the best. This is obviously the worst," said Stephanie Palmer, a FEMA firefighter and rescuer from Coral Springs, Fla.

Much of downtown Port St. Joe, 19 kilometres east of Mexico Beach, was flooded after Michael snapped boats in two and hurled a large ship onto the shore, residents said.

Rescuers used heavy equipment to clear debris in the Florida Panhandle towns hit hardest by Hurricane Michael, searching for survivors amid expectations the death toll of 12 from the powerful storm likely will climb.

"We had houses that were on one side of the street and now they're on the other," said Mayor Bo Patterson, who watched trees fly by his window as he rode out the storm in his home seven blocks from the beach.

We had houses that were on one side of the street and now theyre on the other, said Mayor Bo Patterson, estimating that 1,000 homes were completely or partially destroyed in his town of 3,500 people.

Jordon Tood, 31, a charter boat captain in Port St. Joe, said: "There were mandatory evacuation orders, but only idiots like us stuck around."

The commander of Tyndall Air Force Base said the "base took a beating" and will require "extensive cleanup and repairs." Videos of the damaged base show roofs ripped off hangars and a fighter jet on display toppled onto the ground.

Col. Brian Laidlaw told the 3,600 airmen stationed at the base just east of Panama City that he won't ask them or their families to return until their safety is guaranteed.

Contributors in Florida include Associated Press writers Jay Reeves in Panama City, Brendan Farrington in St. Marks, Gary Fineout in Tallahassee, Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale, and Jennifer Kay and Freida Frisaro in Miami. Others include Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland.

With a low barometric pressure recorded at 919 millibars, a measure of a hurricane's force, Michael was the third strongest storm on record to hit the continental United States, behind only Hurricane Camille on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1969 and the Labour Day hurricane of 1935 in the Florida Keys.

An insurance company that produces models for catastrophes estimated the damage at $8 billion. Boston-based Karen Clark & Company included privately insured wind and storm surge damage to residential, commercial and industrial properties and vehicles in its number. It doesnt include losses covered by the National Flood Insurance Program.

The National Hurricane Center issued its final advisory on Michael on Friday at 5 a.m. ET, when it was 300 to 400 kilometres east-northeast of Norfolk, Va., and southwest of Nantucket, Mass. Michael's top sustained winds were growing again in the warm water, to nearly 100 km/h.

It was toppling trees and bringing life-threatening flash flooding to areas of Georgia and Virginia, which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence, as it marched northeast.

Michael then blew through Virginia, where authorities said five people were killed. Four of them drowned, including James King of Dry Fork, Virginia. A sheriffs deputy and a local resident tried to save him after his vehicle got caught in high water, but "the floodwaters were too deep and two swift," state police said Friday.

More than 1.5 million homes and businesses on the U.S. East Coast were still without power on Friday as a result of the storm. Southern Co's Gulf Power unit said it could take weeks to restore power in the hardest hit parts of Florida like the Panama City area.

All told, Michael caused around 2.5 million outages since making landfall. In Georgia, Southern's Georgia Power unit said it expects to restore service to most customers over the next couple of days, with those in the hardest hit areas by Oct. 16.

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Duke Energy Corp said it had around 6,000 workers restoring service in the Carolinas where an estimated 670,000 customers lost power at some point. Duke currently has about 434,000 customers without power. The company said some outages could take several days to repair.

The number of people in emergency shelters was expected to swell to 20,000 across five states by Friday, said Brad Kieserman of the American Red Cross.

Long said in the long run, people will need to think about the strength of storms if they want to remain in susceptible areas.

"It's OK if you want to live on the coast or on top of a mountain that sees wildfires or whatever, but you have to build to a higher standard," he said. "If we're going to rebuild, do it right."

Brad Rippey, a meteorologist for the U.S. Agriculture Department, said Michael severely damaged cotton, timber, pecan and peanut crops, causing estimated liabilities as high as $1.9 billion US and affecting up to 1.5 million crop hectares.

Michael also disrupted energy operations in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico as it approached land, cutting crude oil production by more than 40 per cent and natural gas output by nearly a third as offshore platforms were evacuated.

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