(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
The death toll from Hurricane Michael rose to 17 people across four states on Friday as rescuers, hampered by power and phone outages, used cadaver dogs, drones and heavy equipment to search devastated communities in the Florida Panhandle.
Searchers found one person dead in the rubble of Mexico Beach, said Joseph Zahralban, Miami's fire chief and the task force leader of a search and rescue unit. Three additional deaths were reported in Marianna, in Jackson County, Florida, Sheriff Lou Roberts told a news conference on Friday afternoon.
"I've watched on television, thinking of what others have experienced, like in the Carolinas and Texas," Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey told reporters. "But it's different when you walk down and see this, and your emotions run away. This is just a small unique coastal community."
The number of fatalities is expected to rise further as rescuers go door to door and comb through the rubble in Mexico Beach and other Florida coastal communities such as Port St. Joe and Panama City.
"I think you're going to see it climb," Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said of the death count. "We still haven't gotten into some of the hardest-hit areas."
The dead include at least eight people in Florida, five in Virginia, three in North Carolina and one in Georgia.
FEMA crews have been using bulldozers and other heavy equipment to push a path through debris to allow rescuers to probe the rubble with specially trained search dogs.
Michael blew ashore near Mexico Beach on Wednesday afternoon as one of the most powerful storms in U.S. history, with winds of up o 155 miles per hour (250 km per hour). It pushed a wall of seawater inland, causing widespread flooding.
The storm, which in less than two days grew from a tropical storm to a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, tore apart entire neighborhoods in the Panhandle, reducing homes to naked concrete foundations or piles of wood and siding.
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