By Richard Fausset, Alan Blinder and Matthew Haag
SPRINGFIELD, Fla. — Hurricane Michael’s death toll rose to 16 on Friday and was expected to climb higher as emergency workers searched rubble and the storm’s grim consequences stretched from the Florida Panhandle into Virginia.
Rescue teams combed a region razed by a Category 4 hurricane that flattened blocks, collapsed buildings and left infrastructure crippled. Some of the hardest-hit communities have yet to report fatalities, and although officials said they hoped they would find survivors, a resigned gloom was setting in throughout the disaster zone.
Here’s the latest:
• At a news conference Friday afternoon in Marianna, Fla., Sheriff Lou Roberts confirmed three storm-related deaths in Jackson County.
• The authorities in Virginia said five people had died, including several who had drowned and a firefighter who was responding to an emergency call. Two other people were feared dead.
• Four deaths occurred in Gadsden County, west of Tallahassee, according to Lt. Anglie Hightower, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office. The victims included a man who died when a tree crashed down on his home in Greensboro.
• An 11-year-old girl, Sarah Radney, was killed on Wednesday when a carport was torn away and was sent hurtling into a modular home in Seminole County, Ga.
• North Carolina officials reported two more deaths on Friday, raising the death toll there to three. The authorites said a man and a woman had died in McDowell County when their car struck a large tree that had fallen in a road.
• At least 1.5 million customers were without electricity in states stretching from Florida to Virginia.
• Many health institutions in Florida remained closed, including four hospitals, 13 nursing homes and 14 assisted living facilities, according to information distributed at a senior federal leadership briefing on Friday and shared with The New York Times. The figures were slightly higher than those distributed by Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration. Several dialysis centers were also closed.
• President Trump said on Friday that he would visit Florida and Georgia next week. “People have no idea how hard Hurricane Michael has hit the great state of Georgia,” he said on Twitter.
• It has been a tough few weeks for the Carolinas. After thrashing the Florida Panhandle, Michael slogged through states still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Florence last month.
• Much of the coast of the Florida Panhandle, including Mexico Beach and Panama City, was devastated. The area is dotted with small, rural communities, some of them among the poorest in the state. Read more about how the storm was hard on people without the means to evacuate.
The father of a girl who died recalled a night of ‘hell’
Roy Radney, Sarah Radney’s father, said his daughter had gone to visit her grandparents earlier in the week while she and her siblings were on fall break.
As the storm churned through the part of southwest Georgia where the grandparents lived, Mr. Radney, 37, called to check in at least once an hour, and sometimes every 15 minutes. Things were fine at first.
But then he got a call from his brother. The reception was bad and Mr. Radney could not quite make out what his brother was saying. But he could tell he was crying.
“When I finally got through and spoke to my mom, my mom said Sarah had been hit in the head,” Mr. Radney said.
The wind, he was told, had lifted up a portable carport that had been behind the house and thrust it toward the home. One of its legs burst through and struck both Sarah and Mr. Radney’s mother. His mother’s lung was punctured, her rib broken. Sarah’s head injury left her gasping for air for 45 minutes to an hour.
“Last night was just hell,” Mr. Radney said. “I’m an hour and a quarter away, and my daughter’s dying, and I can’t do anything about it. I can’t think of anything that is more related to hell than that.”
Then, finally, Mr. Radney and his wife got through again, and his father told Mr. Radney’s wife that Sarah had died.
“And that’s about the end of the story,” Mr. Radney said.
[Read more about Mr. Radney’s memories of Sarah here.]
In Virginia, a firefighter is among storm victims
Most of the people who died in Virginia were drowning victims; another was a firefighter who had responded to a car crash on an interstate highway.
The firefighter, Lt. Brad Clack of the Hanover County Fire-EMS Department, was one of four firefighters struck by their fire engine when a tractor-trailer slammed into it, pushing it into them, around 9 p.m. on Thursday outside Richmond, according to the Virginia State Police.
Mr. Clack was at the scene of a two-vehicle crash on Interstate 295 during the storm. The fire engine’s lights were on, and the roads were slick when it was struck by the tractor-trailer on the side of the road, the police said. The driver of the tractor-trailer suffered serious injuries, the police said, and charges were pending.
The other three firefighters were taken to a hospital in serious condition.
One of the drowning victims died in Charlotte County, near the North Carolina border, after a car was swept away on a bridge on Thursday night, according to the state police. Two other people were in the car, with one rescued and the other missing.
Earlier on Thursday, James King Jr., 45, was swept away in his car in floodwaters in Pittsylvania County in southern Virginia around 3:30 p.m. and could not be rescued despite the efforts of sheriff’s deputies, the state police said. “The floodwaters were too deep and too swift for them to maintain contact with him,” the police said.
And two people were killed in Danville, Va., on Thursday when their cars were overrun by flash flooding. William Lynn Tanksley, 53, died when the car he was in was swept away in fast-moving water around 5 p.m., the Danville Police Department said. Jennifer Bjarnesen Mitchell, 60, died around 10:20 p.m. when the vehicle she was in got stuck in high water.
A motorist was also reported missing in Nottoway County. The vehicle was recovered, but the person who was in the vehicle had not been found.
As the death toll rose in Virginia, the authorities expected more deaths to be reported farther south along the hurricane’s path.
“I expect the fatality count to come up today. I expect it to come up tomorrow, as well, as we get through the debris,” Brock Long, the chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in an interview with CNN on Friday. “Hopefully it doesn’t rise dramatically, but it is a possibility.”
A frantic search for food and water
Government officials were racing Friday to find a way to get food and water to the increasingly desperate people of the Florida Panhandle.
“When is anybody coming to do something?” said Trenisa Smith, 48, a school bus driver in Springfield who had been giving herself insulin treatments in the back of her car. “I’m worried every day.”
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, it was becoming clear that many residents were not only left without a habitable home, but also without adequate stockpiles of food.
Some residents were doing what they could to find food or water, including rummaging through stores that had been damaged. One man said he had been driving to the nearby bay and filling buckets with water to flush the toilets.
Carl Jones, 43, said that he had seen no hint of government response as of Thursday night — “only thing is the police came and said you’ve got to be inside” at nightfall, he said.
Mexico Beach was left in ruins
The seaside community of Mexico Beach, where the storm made landfall, was a flattened wreck. Across the small sport-fishing town, piers and docks were destroyed, fishing boats were piled crazily on shore and residents wandered the streets in horror and wonder.
“These were all block and stucco houses — gone,” the former mayor, Tom Bailey, said. “The mother of all bombs doesn’t do any more damage than this.”
Mr. Long, the administrator of FEMA, said that emergency responders were focused on Friday morning on search-and-rescue efforts in Mexico Beach and other hard-hit areas, including inland communities. Emergency responders are expected to complete all of the “initial” search-and-rescue missions by the end of Friday in both Florida and Georgia, he said.
The road to Mexico Beach became passable Thursday morning, less than 24 hours after Michael made landfall, and it became evident that few communities had suffered more. The town of about 2,000 permanent residents swells to as many as 14,000 in July, and is known for having a relaxed feel compared with the brash tourist strips of Panama City Beach or the tony nearby beach developments of Alys Beach or Seaside.
“So many lives have been changed forever, so many families have lost everything,” Gov. Rick Scott of Florida said. “Homes are gone, businesses are gone. Roads and infrastructure along the storm’s path have been destroyed. This hurricane was an absolute monster.”
Mr. Long was visibly frustrated over reports that residents of the Panhandle coast had ignored state and federal warnings to evacuate before the hurricane arrived. He said that an estimated 13-foot storm surge, not high winds, had reduced homes to piles of wood and debris.
The homes that were still intact, at least partly, were most likely built higher off the ground, allowing the rushing ocean to pass underneath, Mr. Long said. “There’s a lesson here about building codes.”
He asked for patience, especially in the area around Mexico Beach and Panama City as workers tried to clear streets, safely remove downed power lines, and secure ruptured gas lines.
One challenge has been communication, Mr. Long said, and officials are working to allow wireless companies access to the areas to restore cellphone service. It may be some time, he said, before people can return home.
“Bottom line, it was one of the most powerful storms the country has seen since 1851,” he said. “It’s going to be a long time before they can get back.”
[Click on the image below to get a sense of the scale of the destruction in Mexico Beach.]
Hurricane Michael: One Mile of Devastation in Florida
We analyzed aerial images of Mexico Beach, Fla., and found that at least three-quarters of the buildings along a one-mile stretch were destroyed or severely damaged.
The storm hit socially vulnerable areas
While the coastal devastation has become obvious, some disaster experts are most concerned about the conditions farther inland.
Andrew Schroeder, research and analytics director for Direct Relief, said data analyzed by his humanitarian organization showed that people from the coasts had evacuated relatively short distances, to areas that the storm also raked with high winds and cut power lines.
“These are some of the most socially vulnerable places in the entire country,” Mr. Schroeder said, low-income counties with high proportions of older adults, and many people with disabilities and chronic illnesses.
These inland areas were “where the focus has to be,” he said. But assessing the impact will take time. “You only find out about a lot of this stuff after the peak of the attention curve.”
Hurricane Michael in pictures
The photographers Gabriella Angotti-Jones, Emily Kask, Scott McIntyre, Johnny Milano and Eric Thayer are on the ground in Florida covering the storm for The New York Times. See their images here.
An estimate of up to $4.5 billion in losses
Hurricane Michael could inflict wind and storm-surge losses of up to $4.5 billion, according to CoreLogic, a data-analytics company in Irvine, Calif., that bases its estimates on the replacement cost of houses and other structures in the paths of major storms before they hit.
Sharper estimates are expected in the coming weeks, as homeowners report their actual losses to insurers. Property insurers in Florida tend to be younger, smaller companies than those elsewhere, but analysts said they appeared adequately cushioned with reinsurance and were expected to bounce back.
CoreLogic’s estimate does not include the cost of flood damage, which is borne by the National Flood Insurance Program, operated by FEMA. Standard homeowners’ policies do not cover flood damage, and people who live on designated floodplains are required to buy $250,000 worth of coverage from the federal program. The requirement has been hard to enforce, though, and many people who should have the insurance do not.
Stealth fighters were probably damaged at base
An unknown number of F-22 stealth fighters, each costing $339 million, were left behind at Tyndall Air Force Base and probably damaged when Hurricane Michael hit the Panhandle on Wednesday.
Photos and video from the wreckage of the base, where hangars were shredded, showed the distinctive contours of the stealth fighter’s squared tail fins and angled vertical stabilizers jumbled in the wreckage of the base’s largest building, Hangar 5.
Another photo shows the jet in a smaller hangar that had its doors ripped off.
An Air Force spokeswoman, Maj. Malinda Singleton, acknowledged that some aircraft at the base had been damaged but would not confirm that they were F-22s.
“A number of aircraft were left behind in hangars due to maintenance or safety reasons, and all of those hangars are damaged,” Major Singleton said. “We anticipate the aircraft parked inside may be damaged as well, but we won’t know the extent until our crews can safely enter those hangars and make an assessment.
Tyndall Air Force had 55 F-22 fighters, according to a base briefing, but not all of the high-tech and notoriously finicky jets are always flight-worthy.
An Air Force report this year found on average only about 49 percent of F-22s were ready at any given time.
Earlier this week, a spokeswoman for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio said 33 of Tyndall’s fighters had arrived for safekeeping. It is unclear if the other 22 fighters — or about 12 percent of the Air Force’s total fleet — are still on the damaged base.
Supplies are delivered to a center for adults with developmental disabilities
The storm’s effects reached deep into the Panhandle. In the town of Marianna, more than 60 miles northeast of Panama City, roofs were torn off buildings, pine trees had snapped, and piles of bricks were tossed across downtown streets.
The Sunland Center for adults with developmental disabilities was without regular power or landline phone service and its grounds were strewn with debris, said Melanie Etters with the Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities.
She said a truck had delivered food, water, ice and generator fuel to the state-run center, which has about 325 residents, some of them older adults and many of whom require significant assistance with basic activities. She said the center had generators, and its staff were able to communicate with state officials by cellphone.
Some family members of residents, who have conditions including autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy, took to social media in the hours after the storm, pleading for information because they could not contact the center by phone. Ms. Etters said there were no reported injuries and no plans to evacuate the center.
On a normal day, Ms. Etters said, residents participate in programs involving animals and a recycling workshop, and they shop at their own mall.