The death toll from Hurricane Michael rose to at least 13 on Friday — including one first responder — and is expected to increase further as crews search for survivors in the devastating storm’s aftermath.
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Five deaths were reported in Virginia as of Friday morning, bringing the total casualty count to at least 13 with other victims claimed in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.
Among those killed was a firefighter in Hanover County, Virginia, who was hit by a tractor-trailer while assisting with another accident on Interstate 295. Three other firefighters were seriously injured in the crash.
Nearly 1.5 million people in the southeast were without power as of Friday morning, further hindering recovery efforts. FEMA administrator Brock Long said Thursday, “You fix the power, you solve a lot of problems.”
FEMA is using dogs, drones and global positioning satellites to search for survivors. Many of the most heavily-hit areas have not yet been reached, as flooding, downed power lines, trees and other debris blocking roadways are prohibiting crews’ access.
Reuters reported that it could be weeks before power is restored in parts of the Florida panhandle, where Michael hit on Wednesday as a Category 4 hurricane. So far, no confirmed storm-related deaths have been reported in Florida’s northwest counties.
Mark Bowen, chief of emergency services in Bay County, told “Good Morning America” on Friday that “a tremendous number of people” are “unaccounted for.” Bay County took a brutal blow from Hurricane Michael — especially the town of Mexico Beach, which was nearly leveled by the storm’s force.
Bowen said rescuers’ top priority Friday is a “meticulous” search process, “everything from looking for bodies to looking for injured persons.”
“Public safety agencies are only taking highest priority calls right now…heart attacks, you know, major trauma…,” he added. “An enormous amount of 911 calls are going unresponded to because we’ve got this priority to search and rescue. So it’s a terrible thing.”
Long told CNN Friday morning, “I expect the fatality count to climb today and tomorrow as we get through the debris, and I am very frustrated by that, because we seem to not learn this lesson in this country.
“Bigger FEMA is not the answer,” he continued. “Better building codes, resiliency, pre-disaster mitigation is the answer if we want to overcome and reduce the impacts of disasters in those areas.”
Brad Kieserman of the American Red Cross told reporters that the number of people in emergency shelters was expected to reach 20,000 across five states by Friday.
The National Hurricane Center reported at 5:00 a.m. that “all tropical cyclone warnings and watches are discontinued” as Michael moves away from the United States.