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Hurricane Michael aftermath: Storm leaves death, devastation across Southeast

'The whole town is gone:' Hurricane Michael wipes out Florida coastal community (Video: Alice Li, Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post)
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Hurricane Michael is no more. The violent storm that ripped through the Southeast, leaving a trail of death and destruction from Florida to Virginia, finally moved off the coast over the Atlantic Ocean overnight. It is now known as Post-Tropical Cyclone Michael.

Michael made landfall in the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday as a Category 4 hurricane — the strongest on record to hit the area — and charged north through Georgia and into the Carolinas and Virginia, wreaking havoc and causing emergencies. In the storm’s wake lay crushed and flooded buildings, shattered lives and at least 11 deaths that state and local officials have linked to the storm, with authorities investigating another three deaths.

5:12 p.m.: North of Panama City, long waits for gas, food

Dove Rest RV Park in Marianna, Fla. was left in shambles after Hurricane Michael hit. Neighbors say no city personnel has shown up to assist with the damage. (Video: Whitney Leaming, Melissa Macaya/The Washington Post)

FOUNTAIN, Fla. — When everything else was closed, Buck’s Piggly Wiggly Express opened with fuel and food. A line of cars extended a quarter mile, and the queue to enter the convenience store was so long, it took buyers more than 30 minutes to get in.

Ann Jackson, 62, had heard the store in Fountain, Fla., about 30 miles north of Panama City, was selling water and other supplies, so she and her two daughters had rushed to it. They stood in line for 40 minutes to get in. Each family was allowed to buy 20 items and two cases of water. They had to limit their gas purchase to $15.

Jackson had prepared for the hurricane with supplies for three to four days. It wasn’t supposed to be a category 5 storm, she said, so she thought she had enough. Now, the drinking water was running low in their home about 20 minutes south from the store.

“This wasn’t our first hurricane, but it was way worse,” said Jackson, who lived through Opal years ago. For that storm, she said, they were without power for seven days. Now she worries the electricity won’t come back for weeks. She does have faith, she said, that the Walmart where she works will open with days and supplies will be more available.

But Friday, Jackson was relieved to have found Piggly Wiggly open. She and her three daughters split up to get the shopping done, each assigned some necessities. She got water, bleach to make the toilet last longer without flushing, charcoal for the grill, plastic cups, plates and toilet paper. And a treat for her two grandchildren – a watermelon slushie.

Store owner Allen Spikes said the store was luckily spared from major damage, and he was soon on task to put a generator to work to get it open. Friday, he had two semis deliver water, and as customers lined up outside, store workers continued to stock up the water shelves. He was expecting one more fuel delivery on Friday and Saturday.

“People are desperate. They need supplies,” he said, as he and his wife Rachel worked the ice machine and talked to customers. “I am just glad we can serve our community.”

Jackson and her family were grateful.

“This will get us through a few more days,” she said. “All this will go away. But it’s going to be a long time to recover.”

— Luz Lazo

4:53 p.m.: Virginia continues search for missing woman

The Virginia State Police said Friday afternoon that officials were continuing to search for a woman swept away when the vehicle she was riding in was stranded on a bridge along Mt. Harmony Road. The state’s death toll from the storm remained five people late Friday afternoon, according to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

— Mark Berman

3:50 p.m.: The impact Michael left far inland

Brian and Sherry Richardson describe the devastation left behind by Hurricane Michael in Alligator Point, Fla. on Oct. 11. (Video: Whitney Leaming, Drea Cornejo/The Washington Post)

Although the obliterated beachfront communities have gotten most of the media attention, rescue operations are underway far inland. Many people in the Florida Panhandle live on dirt roads now completely blocked by fallen trees.

Rescue teams that can’t reach rural residents by vehicle are having to go on foot, said Sean Collins, 47, a retired firefighter in Marianna, Fla.

“We don’t know if some of the elderly who live back in these woods, are they okay and have they been contacted,” Collins said.

Marianna is about 50 miles from the coast and took a direct hit from the eye of the storm. Buildings downtown were badly damaged. Collins estimated that 100 percent of homes and vehicles were damaged in some way.

But because Marianna is so far from the coast – nearer to Alabama than to Panama City – residents did not evacuate, Collins said.

“Nobody thought it was going to be this devastating,” he said.

— Joel Achenbach

2 p.m.: North Carolina, Georgia report additional storm deaths

Authorities in North Carolina and Georgia confirmed additional deaths in those states, pushing the number of fatalities officials have linked to the storm to at least 11 people as of Friday afternoon, with three more deaths being investigated.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said two people — a man and a woman — were killed in McDowell County when their car hit a large tree that had fallen on the road. State and local officials previously said a man in the state was killed Thursday when a tree fell on his car in Iredell County.

“We extend our heartfelt sympathy to the loved ones and friends of those killed,” Cooper said in a statement.

Meanwhile, officials in Georgia confirmed that a second life had been lost there, after an 11-year-old girl in Seminole County was killed while in a mobile home when the wind hurled a metal carport into the air. The Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency on Friday morning said another person had died in the state. The agency declined to provide additional details on the death beyond saying it occurred in Wayne County.

Virginia authorities said they had confirmed five deaths there and had one person still missing Friday.

In Gadsden County, Fla., the sheriff’s office said Thursday they had four “storm-related fatalities following Hurricane Michael,” although they had only confirmed the details of one death: a man killed when a tree crashed through the roof of his home. A spokeswoman said Friday the four deaths had been forwarded to the medical examiner’s office, but additional details were not immediately available.

Authorities have warned that the storm’s death toll was likely to climb as they were able to head into the areas — like Mexico Beach, Fla. — that endured particular damage this week. FEMA Administrator William “Brock” Long said he believed that the toll would increase, particularly as first responders got into places like Mexico Beach.

“Unfortunately, I think you’re going to see that number climb,” Long said Friday morning. “I hope we don’t see it climb dramatically.”

— Mark Berman

12:10 p.m.: Five dead, one missing in Virginia after storm

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said five people were killed in the state in incidents related to the remnants of Hurricane Michael. (Video: Reuters)

Five people are dead and one is still missing in Virginia after the area was hit by Hurricane Michael. In Charlotte County, three people became stranded in a vehicle on a bridge along Mt. Harmony Road, according to state police.

When rescuers arrived, they were clinging to the railings of a bridge as high waters surrounded them. A local sheriff’s deputy saved a 17-year-old man using a human chain with law enforcement officers, local residents and rope, officials said, but a man and a woman – who police said are related to the teenager – were swept away. Rescuers found the body of the man overnight and the woman is still missing.

Before and after images of Hurricane Michael

In Pittsylvania County, a 45-year-old man died after he was swept away from his vehicle. A sheriff’s deputy and a local resident tried to rescue James E. King Jr., state police said, but the floodwaters were too deep and too swift.

In Hanover County, a firefighter died and four others were injured, including three seriously, after a tractor trailer crashed into them as they tried to help with another crash involving two vehicles along Interstate 295 outside Mechanicsville, Va.

And in Danville, two people died after being swept away by flood waters. One man, William Lynn Tanksley, 53, was swept from his vehicle during flash flooding at around 5 p.m. Thursday. Another person, who police have not yet identified, was stranded in a car overcome by flooding at around 10:20 p.m.

— Dana Hedgpeth

10:04 a.m.: FEMA chief warns the death toll likely to climb

FEMA director Brock Long expressed frustration on Oct. 12 that people in the path of Hurricane Michael did not heed warnings to evacuate. (Video: Reuters)

FEMA Administrator William “Brock” Long said Friday morning that the death toll from Hurricane Michael is likely to go up as rescue workers are able to venture more deeply into the areas devastated by the storm.

Authorities as of Friday morning had confirmed 11 deaths in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia, but they have repeatedly warned that this number could go up. Long reiterated that during a news briefing in Washington, saying that authorities have yet to fully explore areas like Mexico Beach, Fla., which Long has called “ground zero” after it was pummeled by the hurricane.

“Unfortunately, I think you’re going to see that number climb,” Long said. “I hope we don’t see it climb dramatically. But I have reasons to believe — we haven’t gotten into some of the hardest hit areas, particularly the Mexico Beach area.”

Long said the storm posed a direct threat to people who ignored warnings and evacuation orders on the coastlines, particularly given the threat of storm surge capable of tearing apart and flattening buildings.

“Very few people live to tell what it’s like to experience storm surge,” he said.

Long asked people in the areas directly hit by the storm to be patient for what is poised to be a long recovery, because it will take time to assess the damage and confront the destruction.

“This is going to be a frustrating event,” he said. “It takes time to put things back together.”

Long, who plans to head to the area hit by the storm over the weekend, said that in Bay County, Fla. — home to Mexico Beach — “it’s not safe to return,” given the downed power lines and other debris littering the region.

“Quite honestly, it’s a dangerous area to go back into,” he said.

— Mark Berman

8:55 a.m.: In final advisory, hurricane center says Michael’s remnants are moving toward the sea

The National Hurricane Center on Friday morning posted its final advisory for the storm formerly known as Hurricane Michael, writing that the “post-tropical cyclone” was trundling northeast and heading for the Atlantic.

The forecast calls for the storm’s center to “move away from the United States today and move rapidly across the open Atlantic Ocean” beginning Friday night and through Sunday.

The storm is still expected to produce storm surge flooding along the North Carolina coast, though that should diminish Friday, along with powerful winds in the mid-Atlantic in the early part of the day. The storm is even expected to drop some rain on New England and could produce up to 5 inches of rain in Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, while flash flooding remains possible from the heavy rain left behind in the Carolinas and elsewhere in the mid-Atlantic.

— Mark Berman

8:40 a.m.: Tyndall Air Force base “took a beating,” commander says

When Hurricane Michael swept ashore in northwestern Florida, it delivered a punishing shot to Tyndall Air Force base, which sits between Panama City and Mexico Beach, not far from where the storm made landfall.

The “base took a beating,” Col. Brian S. Laidlaw, the installation’s commander and commander of the 325th Fighter Wing, wrote in a letter to the people who call it home.

“By now you already know that Tyndall Air Force Base requires extensive cleanup and repairs,” Laidlaw wrote. “I will not recall you and your families until we can guarantee your safety.”

Laidlaw said he did not know how long the cleanup would take, but asked for patience because of the work involved.

“We need to restore basic utilities, clear our roads of trees and power lines, and assess the structural integrity of our buildings,” he wrote. He added: “We can rebuild our base, but we can’t rebuild any of you.”

— Mark Berman

7:59 a.m.: Five deaths reported in Virginia

The known death toll from Michael now stands at 11, after this sobering bulletin from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management:

Four of the deaths were related to people being swept away in floodwaters along roads; the fifth was a firefighter who was killed in a crash along a highway, according to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

In one incident, Virginia State Police said James E. King Jr., 45, of Dry Fork, Va., was swept away from his vehicle after he got caught Thursday afternoon in a flash flood in Pittsylvania County.

A local sheriff’s deputy and a local resident tried to rescue him but police said the “floodwaters were too deep and too swift” for them to reach him. Around 10:37 p.m., his body was found.

A firefighter in Hanover County was struck and killed by a tractor-trailer and three other firefighters were seriously injured as they tried to help with another crash on Interstate 295. The driver of the tractor-trailer also suffered serious injuries.

Authorities in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina had previously linked at least six deaths to the storm, a toll officials have worried will continue to rise as search-and-rescue efforts continue.

In Florida, the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office reported four deaths related to the storm. A spokeswoman said that one man was killed when a tree crashed through the roof of his home in Greensboro. The sheriff’s office said that it also had three other “storm-related fatalities following Hurricane Michael,” although it did not immediately release further information about what happened beyond saying that all four deaths were “in relation to or occurred during the storm.”

Gadsden, a county in northwest Florida not far from Tallahassee, took a direct shot from Michael as it churned northward on Wednesday.

In North Carolina, a 38-year-old man was killed Thursday afternoon shortly before 1 p.m. in Iredell County, north of Charlotte, when a tree fell on the vehicle he was driving, according to David Souther, the county’s fire marshal.

And in Georgia, officials in Seminole County, on the Florida border, said early Thursday that an 11-year-old girl in a mobile home was killed by a metal carport that was thrown in the air by Michael’s gusting winds.

William “Brock” Long, the FEMA administrator, said Thursday that “search and rescue is where we are hyper-focused this morning.” He warned that the death toll may go up, saying in an appearance on CNN that “those numbers could climb as search-and-rescue teams get out.”

J. Freedom du Lac, Dana Hedgpeth and Mark Berman

7:13 a.m.: More than a million power outages reported

“You fix the power, you solve a lot of problems,” FEMA Administrator William “Brock” Long said Thursday, of the post-Michael recovery and cleanup efforts.

There’s a lot left to fix: Nearly 1.5 million people throughout the Southeast woke up without power Friday, including more than a half-million in Virginia — mostly in the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas, according to Dominion Energy. There are about 425,000 outages in North Carolina, according to a Duke Energy spokeswoman. The Florida State Emergency Response Team reported more than 350,000 outages.

J. Freedom du Lac

6:19 a.m.: ‘All coastal tropical cyclone warnings and watches are discontinued’

The National Hurricane Center’s first public advisory arrived with little notice on Oct. 6, a Saturday. Michael wasn’t even a named storm then; it was simply “Potential Tropical Cyclone Fourteen,” and the center noted that it was “getting better organized over the northwestern Caribbean Sea.”

By the following day, the storm had its name — and by Monday, the center was sounding the alarm about Michael’s potential impacts on the United States.

Landfall came quickly — on Wednesday, along Florida’s “Forgotten Coast” — and Michael was as bad as advertised, delivering a devastating blow before heading north.

Now, it is gone. Early Friday, in “Post-Tropical Cyclone Michael Advisory Number 23,” the National Hurricane Center wrote that Michael had moved away from the United States, and that “all coastal tropical cyclone warnings and watches are discontinued.”

There may be lingering effects, though, the center wrote: “Gale winds may continue for a few more hours over portions of southeastern Virginia, the southern Chesapeake Bay, and the Delmarva Peninsula.”

And: “Michael is expected to produce 1 to 3 inches of rain from New Jersey to Long Island to Cape Cod, and 3 to 5 inches over Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard through this afternoon.”

And: “This rainfall could lead to flash flooding. Elsewhere, flooding and flash flooding may continue where Michael produced heavy rain very recently in the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic states.”

But it is gone and done, the center noted, adding: “This is the last public advisory issued by the National Hurricane Center on this system.”

— J. Freedom du Lac