By Steve Holland
LYNNHAVEN, Fla. (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump got a first-hand look on Monday at the “total devastation” that Hurricane Michael brought to Florida, as rescuers searched for scores of missing people and hundreds of thousands of residents remained without power.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump passed out bottles of water at an aid centre in Lynn Haven, a city of about 18,500 people near Panama City in northwestern Florida, after taking a helicopter flight from Eglin Air Force Base about 100 miles (160 km) to the west.
“To see this personally is very tough – total devastation,” said Trump, who later travelled to neighbouring Georgia to see storm damage there.
At least 18 deaths in four states have been blamed on Michael, which crashed into the Panhandle last Wednesday as one of the most powerful storms on record to hit the continental United States.
Thousands of rescuers, including volunteers, are still combing remote areas of the Florida Panhandle for those reported missing. An estimated 30 to 40 people remained unaccounted for in Mexico Beach, according to a city councillor, Rex Putnal. The town of about 1,200 residents took a direct hit from the hurricane, and at least one person died there, according to the mayor.
With most Mexico Beach homes already searched for survivors, rescue workers began using cadaver dogs to find any bodies that might be buried under piles of debris.
“We’re sifting through it to make sure there wasn’t anybody that could have been inside, using dogs like that, human remains dogs, they pick up the scent,” said Ignatius Carroll, a Miami fire captain who leads a Federal Emergency Management Agency rescue team, said by phone.
About 200,000 people remained without power in the U.S. Southeast, with residents cooking with fires and barbecue grills in hard-hit coastal towns such as Port St. Joe, Florida.
BILLIONS IN INSUREDLOSSES
Insured losses for wind and storm surge from Hurricane Michael will run between an estimated $6 billion and $10 billion, risk modeller AIR Worldwide said. Those figures do not include losses paid out by the National Flood Insurance Program or uninsured property, AIR Worldwide said.
With top sustained winds of 155 miles per hour (250 kph), Michael hit the Florida Panhandle as a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.
CrowdSource Rescue said its teams were trying to check on 1,300 people in the disaster zone in the Florida Panhandle who are unaccounted for by loved ones, down from about 2,100 as of Friday, according to Matthew Marchetti, co-founder of the Houston-based group.
A 78-year-old woman was found by CrowdSource volunteers on Monday in Panama City outside her wrecked house, surviving on persimmons she picked from a tree in the yard.
“When I arrived to her home, her entire roof was lying in her front yard,” said volunteer Russ Montgomery from San Antonio.
Water service was restored to some in Panama City on Monday but Bay County officials said it was not yet safe to drink.
While power was returning in most areas, at least 85 percent of customers in four mainly rural Panhandle counties were without electricity on Monday. Officials said it could be weeks before power returns to the most-damaged areas.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Terray Sylvester, Bernie Woodall in Florida, Makini Brice and Roberta Rampton in Washington, Rich McKay in Atlanta, Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Will Dunham and Peter Cooney)