Power, phone outages hamper hurricane
recovery one week after storm
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[October 18, 2018]
By Brian Snyder
PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) - A week
after Hurricane Michael battered Florida's Gulf Coast with record fury,
the full extent of devastation and loss of life remained unclear on
Wednesday, as disruptions to phone, power and transportation systems
hindered the disaster recovery.
At least 30 people were killed, according to local authorities, when
Michael plowed ashore as one of the fiercest hurricanes on record to
strike the U.S. mainland, pulverizing a cluster of seaside towns along
Florida's northwestern Panhandle region.
Seven days later search crews continued combing through the wreckage of
demolished neighborhoods looking for any sign of additional victims in
Panama City Beach, Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe, the communities
closest to the storm's landfall.
Distribution of food and water to storm-stricken residents farther
inland has been slowed by communication outages and storm-shattered
roads blocked by toppled trees, power lines and other debris.
Florida officials have not said how many people may be missing.
Teams of volunteers with the Houston-based CrowdSource Rescue
organization were trying to reach more than 700 Florida residents
reported unaccounted for by worried relatives and friends, said Matthew
Marchetti, the organization's co-founder.
Most of that number, down from 2,100 people the group was trying to
locate in the immediate aftermath of the storm, are from Panama City and
many of them are elderly, disabled, impoverished or living alone,
He said the search had been hampered by spotty cell phone service in the
devastated area, though authorities were making progress in restoring
High volumes of missing persons reports are not uncommon in the days
following a natural disaster because so many survivors fail to check in
with loved ones right away or lack the means to do so because of phone
and power outages, authorities said.
Nevertheless, at least 48,000 Florida residents in the 12 counties
hardest hit by Hurricane Michael had registered for disaster assistance
as of Wednesday with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA
spokesman Ruben Brown told Reuters.
That number represents about 7 percent of the population of the 12
counties designated by President Donald Trump's federal disaster
declaration as eligible for FEMA aid to individuals and households.
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Mark Drake, 55, of Tallahassee, helps remove a stuffed blue marlin
from a home damaged by Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida,
U.S., October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Nearly a third, or more than 15,000 people, reported storm damage to
their homes when they signed up with FEMA, though the full scope of
property losses remained to be seen, Brown said. As of Wednesday,
286 families left homeless by the storm in Bay County, at the
epicenter of the disaster, were approved for FEMA-furnished hotel
vouchers, he said.
Florida accounted for 20 of the known fatalities attributed to
Hurricane Michael, with six more in Virginia, three in North
Carolina and one in Georgia, according to a Reuters tally of reports
from county officials along the path of the storm.
Officials said medical examiners were determining whether another
four deaths in Florida were storm-related.
As of Tuesday, FEMA had distributed about 4.5 million meals, more
than 5 million liters of water and 9 million infant-and-toddler
kits, Brown said. The state government was distributing ice, water
and about 3 million ready-to-eat meals, Governor Rick Scott's office
Nearly 155,000 homes and businesses remained without power in the
U.S. Southeast, with residents of battered coastal towns forced to
cook on fires and barbecue grills.
At least 70 percent of customers in four mainly rural Florida
Panhandle counties were without electricity on Wednesday. On
Tuesday, the federal government said that 61.5 percent of cell sites
remained out of service in Bay County. Officials said it could be
weeks before power returns to some.
Countless numbers of people in the region's backcountry have
struggled for days without running water or sanitation, awaiting
help from authorities. Some have been camping in tents with the
belongings they were able to salvage.
(Additional reporting by Terray Sylvester and Bernie Woodall in
Florida, Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Andrew Hay in New Mexico,
Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee, Jonathan Allen and Gabriella Borter in
New York and David Shepardson in Washington; Writing by Alex
Dobuzinskis and Steve Gorman; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Steve
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