MEXICO BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – Searching and rescuing volunteers has found hundreds of people missing in the southeast of the United States after hurricane Michael tore through their Florida Panhandle communities, but the death toll of at least 18 is expected to rise.
The crew heard cries of help and crowed into a mobile house crumbled by the storm in Panama City, releasing a mother and a daughter, both diabetics who were locked in a closet for two days without insulin and were on the verge of a diabetic shock. , emergency workers said. on Saturday.
"We had another lady on her last tank of oxygen, no cell phone, no electricity, nothing, there are people who are dialysing, but there is no power," says Taylor Fontenot, 29, a Sugar Land roofer, Texas, and founder of 50 Star SAR, an organization for search and rescue of volunteers.
In door-to-door investigations, teams consisting mainly of off-duty policemen and firefighters have found more than 520 of the 2,100 reported people since Michael crashed on the edge of Mexico Beach in Florida as one of the most powerful storms in American history.
"We expect this number to rise dramatically today," said Matthew Marchetti, co-founder of the Houston-based CrowdSource Rescue, adding that hope was raised by an influx of volunteers over the weekend and the restoration of power in some areas.
"Volunteers work side by side with first responders, they cut holes in roofs, they try to take a picture so we can call the family and tell them we've made contact," he said.
But as roads were cleared to allow for wider searches, the death toll was expected to rise. As of Saturday, the authorities reported at least 18 deaths in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.
Rescue teams, hampered by power outages and telephone calls, used cadaver hounds, drones and heavy equipment to scare people into the rubble.
Fontenot, who said that he warned authorities when he finds corpses, has a cadaverhound with his group.
& # 39; When we entered Mexico Beach, she tried to jump out of the window because she smelled so many bodies, & # 39; he said.
In Callaway, Florida, a particularly badly hit city, Catholic Christians served hamburgers on Saturday, and Scientologists distributed water.
"I'm homeless," said nurse assistant Carla Covington, 45, who takes care of her mother and two children after their house was destroyed by falling trees.
She said that it felt good to receive comfort, but was also difficult.
"I'm used to helping people and not asking for help," she said, her voice broke with emotion.
Panama City dock worker Josh Jackson, 29, had damaged three cars. The rented house where he lived with his girlfriend and son had died, as well as their possessions.
"I lost everything, so I have to start again," he said at a tent in a parking lot where a Geico insurance agent took claims. Jackson said he was planning to move to a community that was not so badly affected, but feared that delays in handling his insurance application might stand in the way.
Michael tore most of the two walls from the red brick St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Panama City, but parishioners spent Saturday distributing food, water and clothing to others.
"Our whole city was hit, and there must be a way it can recover," said Jo Ann Sutter, 73, a volunteer who was married in church. "We'll."
The tropical storm, which grew in a hurricane of category 4 in less than two days, tore apart entire neighborhoods.
More than 1,700 search and rescue workers were deployed, including seven rescue teams with fast water and nearly 300 ambulances, said the office of Florida Governor Rick Scott.
Power supply and telephone services were slowly being restored, with around 236,000 homes and businesses still without power in North Carolina, peaking at more than 600,000, said Keith Acree spokesperson for the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.
It may take weeks before the power supply to the most damaged parts of Florida is restored.
Reporting by Rod Nickel; Additional reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar in Port St. Joe, Florida, Barbara Goldberg in New York and Brendan O & # 39; Brien in Milwaukee; Edited by Clelia Oziel and Daniel Wallis