The search for survivors begins in Florida as Hurricane Michael death toll rises to 12

  • Rescuers have begun to search for survivors in Florida after Hurricane Michael devastated the coast. Efforts will intensify on Friday.
  • 12 people have been killed across four states, and the whereabouts of 280 people in Florida was known as of Thursday.
  • The army, national guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are working on the ground, but FEMA has warned of a rising death toll.
  • Efforts to rebuild will begin after homes and roads were smashed and trees downed. One estimate said Hurricane Michael cost $8 billion in damage.

Efforts to find survivors in the rubble caused by Hurricane Michael have begun while the death toll from one of the most powerful storms in history has risen to 12 across four states.

Category-4 Hurricane Michael smashed into Mexico Beach on Wednesday with 155 mph winds, tearing buildings apart, causing widespread flooding, and killing at least two people.

The storm then weakened to a tropical storm where it killed people in Georgia, Virginia, and North Carolina, Reuters reported, citing state officials.

“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.”

In Mexico Beach, the army used heavy equipment to clear a path in the debris and allow rescuers through to search for trapped residents, survivors, or casualties, as Blackhawk helicopters circled overhead.

FEMA used dogs, drones, and GPS in the search.

First responders and residents walk in Mexico Beach on Thursday.

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First responders and residents walk in Mexico Beach on Thursday.
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REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

“We have teams from all over the country working with federal, state & local partners in Florida. Their specialties range from damage assessment to medical missions to search & rescue,” FEMA tweeted on Thursday.

The National Guard rescued 20 survivors on Wednesday night in Mexico Beach, the Associated Press reported. Gov. Rick Scott said on Thursday that the guard was coming with 13 helicopters, 16 boats and 1,000 high water vehicles. “Help is on the way,” he tweeted.

“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, Florida.

The American Red Cross estimates that 320,000 people did not evacuate despite official orders and dire warnings – some ignored the warnings while others were unable to leave before the storm rapidly intensified.

As of Thursday, authorities said that 280 people were missing. The Federal Emergency Management Agency warned that the death toll is likely to rise, with Long writing on Twitter that “People do not live to tell the tale about storm surge.”

Aerial footage shows the extent of the damage from Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach.

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Aerial footage shows the extent of the damage from Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach.
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Chris O’Meara/Pool via REUTERS

Rebuilding after “unimaginable destruction”

Scott promised an “aggressive” cleanup operation, but acknowledged its huge scale.

“So many lives have been changed forever. So many families have lost everything,” he said. He called it “unimaginable destruction.”

An insurance company that produces models for catastrophes estimated Michael caused about $8 billion in damage, the Associated Press reported.

Mexico Beach Mayor Bo Patterson estimated 1,000 homes were completely or partially destroyed in his town of 3,500 people.

“We had houses that were on one side of the street and now they’re on the other,” he said.

Those left behind acknowledged the sheer scale of the destruction. “All of my furniture was floating,” Mexico Beach resident Linda Marquardt told the Associated Press. “A river just started coming down the road. It was awful, and now there’s just nothing left.”

Almost 1.2 million homes and businesses were without power from Florida to Virginia on Thursday.