Tuesday, January 22, 2019 | ePaper
At least 30 killed by Hurricane Michael as storm moves through US
Nearly 137,000 Florida homes and businesses were still without power Tuesday
Hurricane Michael killed at least 30 people in four states, as the storm made its way through the southeastern United States last week, new local estimates showed Tuesday.
Twelve bodies were recovered in Bay County, Florida, Sheriff Tommy Ford told local media, bringing the death toll up to 20 in that state.
The powerful Category 4 storm, which originally made landfall along Florida's Gulf of Mexico coastline with winds of up to 155 miles (250 kilometers) an hour, also left one person dead in Georgia, three in North Carolina and six in Virginia.
Hurricane Michael left scenes of destruction in its wake in Florida, and authorities fear the death toll could still increase as the search operation continues in the most heavily damaged areas.
Nearly 137,000 Florida homes and businesses were still without power Tuesday, and several water and food distribution points were still in place for affected residents throughout the state.
Some jurisdictions implemented curfews and most schools in the affected areas were closed until further notice.
Rights groups urged the Guatemalan government to guarantee the migrants safe passage.
"The government of Guatemala is responsible for the security and integrity of the people who are on its territory and their human rights should not be violated for any reason," a statement by 18 migrant support groups said.
"We demand the cessation of all police and administrative action that restricts their fundamental rights," the groups added.
Mexico has also said it would block members of the caravan from entering its territory if they did not have permits.
According to the United Nations, 500,000 people cross illegally over Mexico's southern border each year in the hope of making it to the United States.
Rescue teams searched ravaged areas of Florida's Panhandle on Tuesday for hundreds of people reported missing nearly a week after Hurricane Michael flattened communities in the region and killed at least 30.
Matthew Marchetti, co-founder of Houston-based CrowdSource Rescue, which had hundreds of volunteers on the ground, said he expects the death toll to rise as phone service is restored and roads are cleared.
"For every one person we have made contact with, there are probably three we haven't," Marchetti said.
Teams from the volunteer organization were searching for more than 1,135 people in Florida who lost contact with friends and family, he said.
Florida officials have not given a number for how many people are considered to be missing.
Debris, downed trees and power lines have hampered access to stranded people, but CrowdSource said a number of its missing person reports resulted from widespread phone and power outages.
The death toll includes 17 in Florida, one in Georgia, three in North Carolina and six in Virginia, according to a Reuters tally of official reports. Officials said medical examiners were determining whether another four deaths in Florida were due to the storm.
Michael slammed into the northwest coastal strip of Florida last Wednesday with top sustained winds of 155 miles per hour (250 km per hour), unleashing a surge of seawater that demolished homes.
In Mexico Beach, which took a direct hit, some residents who returned to survey the damage made some startling discoveries.
The storm shoved the top floor of Charles and Janice Anderson's vacation home hundreds of yards from its foundation - with the living room intact and a stuffed marlin still hanging on the wall.
Most of those missing are from Panama City and many are elderly, disabled, impoverished, or live alone, Marchetti said.
"The hardest hit in disasters are generally our most vulnerable populations," he said.
In nearby Mexico Beach, the number of people missing dropped to three on Tuesday, said Rex Putnal, a city councillor. A day earlier, it was more than 30. The town of 1,200 residents had reported two fatalities as of Monday.
"It's miraculous if all we have is two fatalities," said Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey.
Nearly 190,000 homes and businesses remained without power in the U.S. Southeast, with residents of battered coastal towns forced to cook on fires and barbecue grills.
At least 80 percent of customers in three mainly rural Panhandle counties were without electricity on Tuesday. Officials said it could be weeks before power returns to some.
Countless others in the region's backcountry have struggled for days without running water or sanitation, awaiting help from authorities. Some have been camping in tents with the belongings they were able to salvage.
The state government is distributing ice, water and about 3 million ready-to-eat meals, Governor Rick Scott's office said.
Marchetti said the search has been hampered by spotty cell phone coverage in the devastated area, though authorities are making progress in restoring communications.
Many residents have also expressed frustration at the slow pace of recovery of wireless networks. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Tuesday called for wireless carriers to waive bills for customers affected by the storm.