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With two people killed in the most powerful storm to hit the Florida Panhandle in recorded history, officials warned the number was likely to rise as search crews struggled to gain access to ravaged areas and sift through the piles of debris.
Hurricane Michael made landfall in Mexico Beach, Florida, Wednesday just shy of a Category 5 hurricane, with winds gusting at 155 mph. While the storm weakened through the night as it passed over Georgia, it still proved deadly in that state.
“Unfortunately in these types of things as we go through and sift through damage, ultimately those who didn’t heed warnings, particularly around the Mexico Beach area, we typically see deaths climb unfortunately,” Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said on CBS Thursday.
And Michael isn’t finished yet. The Carolinas, still cleaning up from Hurricane Florence, could see 50 mph winds, flooding, tornadoes and up to 7 inches of rain on Thursday.
“We need people in South Carolina and North Carolina to remain vigilant and be careful. This is a strong tropical storm pushing through,” Long said on “Today.”
More than 340,952 customers were without power in Florida and more than 343,596 in Georgia.
One man was killed when a tree fell on a residence in Greensboro, Florida, Sgt. Anglie Hightower, a spokeswoman for the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office, told NBC News.
An 11-year-old girl was killed near Lake Seminole, Georgia, when a metal carport used for boats was picked up by wind, crashed through the roof of the house she was in and struck her in the head, said Travis Brooks, director of emergency management for Seminole County. The emergency call came in on Wednesday afternoon, but responders weren’t able to get to the home until early Thursday morning because “the roads were so messed up,” Brooks said.
Long said crews were able to get to some hard-hit areas in the Panhandle on Wednesday night, but getting to Mexico Beach, Apalachicola and Panama City Beach was deeply challenging because of possibly affected bridges leading to those areas.
An 80-mile stretch of Interstate 10, which weaves through the Panhandle, was also closed Thursday so crews could clear debris, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. Florida Gov. Rick Scott urged residents to stay inside so that search and rescue teams could get through.
“I’m very concerned about our citizens that didn’t evacuate and I just hope that, you know, we don’t have much loss of life,” Scott said.
“We’re all anxiously awaiting daylight to assess fully all damages but right now we’re focused, hyper-focused, on search and rescue,” Long echoed.
A journalist and photographer with the Tampa Bay Times managed to tunnel through downed trees and power lines to get to Mexico Beach early Thursday morning. Fires burned, alarms sounded and cars were tangled with toilets and refrigerators ripped from homes that “looked like doll houses, one side exposed to the elements,” they said.
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