Washington: The catastrophic impact of Hurricane Michael, which left behind a trail of destruction in the United States, especially in Florida, Georgia and Virginia, was becoming clearer by each passing day, with the death toll reaching 17 on Saturday.
More than one million people were left without electricity due to one of the strongest hurricanes to hit the country, while emergency officials had no access to many towns.
The death toll, which rose to 17 on Saturday, included five casualties in Virginia and eight in Florida, was expected to increase.
“I expect the fatality count to rise today and tomorrow as we get through the debris,” Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said on Friday.
Michael, which swept off Florida’s Panhandle literally, was described as having caused “the worst destruction that Panhandle has seen for a real long time. It’s akin to Hurricane Andrew in 1992, where everything was leveled,” Senator Bill Nelson told CNN.
Aerial footage showed coastal cities in Panhandle, including Mexico Beach, wiped out. Search teams used dogs as they combed the area for people killed or trapped in debris.
One death was reported in Mexico Beach — that of an elderly man found alone, Mayor Al Cathey said. The man’s name has not been released, but authorities said his body was found several hundred yards away from his home.
City manager Tanya Castro said Mexico Beach won’t be up and running for 12 to 18 months.
Mr Nelson said there are not enough resources — food, shelter and water — for those in Mexico Beach who stayed and for those residents returning. In Panama City, he said “there’s going to be a period of time that it’s difficult to get supplies in.”
Dawn Vickers rode out the storm in Mexico Beach, but her house and vehicles were demolished. Without cell phone service or transportation, she has been taking shelter in one of the few condos left standing, invited by someone she met at what’s left of a gas station.
“This has been the worst nightmare I’ve ever been through in my life,” she told CNN.
A psychiatric hospital in Florida is isolated after downed trees blocked roads around Chattahoochee, and a tree caused a water line to break. The facility is running on power generators, and helicopters have delivered food and water, the state’s Department of Children and Families said.