(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Searchers on Friday found the first body in the rubble of the Florida coastal town of Mexico Beach, which was nearly obliterated by Hurricane Michael, as the toll from the historic storm rose to at least 17 and was expected to rise.
Rescue teams, hampered by power and phone outages, used cadaver dogs, drones and heavy equipment to search for hundreds of people unaccounted for in devastated communities across the Florida Panhandle.
"I've watched on television, thinking of what others have experienced, like in the Carolinas and Texas," Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey told reporters referring to hurricanes this year and last. "But it's different when you walk down and see this, and your emotions run away. This is just a small unique coastal community."
No other information was available about the deceased man found in Mexico Beach, said Joseph Zahralban, Miami's fire chief and the task force leader of a search and rescue unit. He said it was unclear if the man was living alone or with a family.
Three deaths were reported in Marianna, in Jackson County, Florida, Sheriff Lou Roberts told a news conference on Friday afternoon.
The dead include at least eight people in Florida, five in Virginia, three in North Carolina and one in Georgia.
The number of fatalities is expected to rise 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, said Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The Houston-based volunteer search-and-rescue network CrowdSource Rescue said its teams were trying to find some 2,500 people who were either reported missing or were stranded and in need of help in Florida, co-founder Matthew Marchetti said.
Social media websites were filled with messages from people trying to reach missing family members in Florida's Bay and Gulf Counties.
Marchetti said his volunteer search teams, consisting mostly of off-duty police officers and firefighters, also had rescued or accounted for 345 others previously reported to CrowdSource Rescue since Michael struck on Wednesday.
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