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'This was our heart. It's just gone': Death toll from Michael climbs to 11  10 Months ago

Source:   USA Today  

The death toll from Hurricane Michael increased to at least 14 people across four states, including five fatalities reported Friday in Virginia, according to the state's Department of Emergency Management. 

Less than two days after arriving on the Florida Panhandle as one of the most powerful hurricanes in U.S. history, a Category 4 monster with 155 mph winds that sheared roofs from houses and buildings and snapped trees and power poles, Michael moved off the East Coast early Friday morning and into the Atlantic Ocean as a post-tropical storm.

The potent Michael claimed lives in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

Four motorists drowned in Virginia when their vehicles were washed off roads from heavy rain and flooding and a Hanover County firefighter died. Another person's car was recovered in Nottoway County, but emergency officials had not found the person as of Friday afternoon, a Virginia State Police official said. 

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said the state was prepared and warned motorists about potential danger but added powerful storms can be "unpredictable."

"Not only are these storms dangerous to Virginians, they are dangerous to our first responders," Northam said. 

In North Carolina, a man and a woman died when their car collided with a tree that had fallen across a road, according to Gov. Roy Cooper's office. Another man died Thursday afternoon in Iredell County when a tree fell on his car.

Nearly 1.3 million customers across five states were without power early Friday morning, according to PowerOutage.US.

Hanover County Fire-EMS Department identified Lt. Brad Clark as the firefighter who died. A tractor-trailer struck slammed into his fire truck at about 9 p.m. Thursday as he responded to a two-vehicle crash on wet roads amid heavy storm conditions. 

Steve Sweet, 44, and Sarah Radney, 11, have been named as other storm victims.

Sweet was killed in Gadsden County, Florida, near the state border with Georgia, when a tree fell into his home, pinning him and his wife, Gayle Sweet. She made it out alive. He didn't.

Gayle Sweet refused to go to the hospital on Thursday afternoon even though she hit her head. She wanted emergency crews to remove her husband's body before she sought care for her own medical needs. 

Radney, who was visiting her grandparents in Seminole County, Georgia, was killed when a portable carport broke through the house and struck her in the head.

“Last night was just hell,” Radney's father, Roy, told the New York Times. “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.”

The final effects of Michael were being felt across parts of Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and North Carolina, where the National Hurricane Center warned of “life-threatening” flash flooding and “strong, possibly damaging winds.”

Michael’s impact across the southern Mid-Atlantic states and the Carolinas, though, will be minor compared to its trail of destruction in the Florida Panhandle. Panama City, a popular spring break retreat, and Mexico Beach, another upscale coastline spot, were nearly unrecognizable in Michael’s wake.

Homeowners from Panama City to Port St. Joe returned to see the path of destruction from ferocious winds.

Becky Daniel and her wife Monica Barber pulled up to the scattered remains of their demolished gulf-front home near Mexico Beach. They assessed the damage and embraced each other.

“This was our heart,” Daniel told Florida Today. “It’s just gone.”

Many homes in the heavily-hit Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe areas were reduced to piles of lumber, broken glass and household items. 

Still, federal officials warned that evacuated residents should stay away from storm-damaged areas such as Bay County. They said debris, damaged gas and power lines and communication and transportation problems are barriers to a safe return.

“It’s still not safe to return, particularly to Bay County, Florida,” Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Brock Long told reporters. 

The recovery in Florida will take time – especially in Mexico Beach, where Michael made landfall Wednesday afternoon.

Four hospitals and 11 nursing homes in Florida were closed on Friday, according to Kevin Yeskey, acting deputy assistant secretary of Health and Human Services.

Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center evacuated patients due to storm damage but are treating those who arrive in the emergency room. Bay Medical said it was forced to transfer 200 patients after part of the hospital's roof collapsed, compromising supplies needed to run the hospital.

Michael was just the fourth major hurricane – Category 3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale – to crash ashore on the Florida Panhandle since 1950, joining Eloise (1975), Opal (1995) and Dennis (2005).

Braun reported from Mexico Beach, Florida. Alltucker reported from Mclean, Virginia. Kiggins reported from Los Angeles, California. 

 

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