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

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Aerial footage shot from a helicopter shows some of the destruction in Florida caused by Hurricane Michael.
USA TODAY

The death toll from Hurricane Michael increased to 11 people across three 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 and Virginia.Four people drowned in Virginia and a Hanover County firefighter died, the Associated Press reported. Nearly 1.5 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. 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.”

More: Striking photos and video from Michael’s path of destruction

More: How you can help people in the path of Hurricane Michael

More: Hurricane Michael: Where the storm is now, what we know about damage

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 St. Joseph 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 off 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. Joseph areas were reduced to piles of lumber, broken glass and household items. “I was sure it would be here,” Daniel said. “We just rebuilt this. We bought it four years ago and completely rebuilt it. We’re contractors.”

As residents of the hard-hit communities witnessed the storm’s aftermath, elected officials vowed quick action to recover. 

“We will rebuild. We will come back stronger than ever. And we will do it together,” Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum tweeted Thursday night.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott took an aerial tour of some impacted areas on Thursday and, hours later, tweeted that he and his wife, Ann, were sheltering 50 Florida Highway Patrol officers in the governor’s mansion. In another tweet, Scott thanked the grocery store chain Publix for “generously donating food for these troopers to have dinner tonight.”

Gillum was doing his part to help, too. Tampa Bay Times reporter Lawrence Mower tweeted a video of Gillum and his chief of staff using a chainsaw to clear one street on Thursday.

And, Gillum’s opponent in Florida’s gubernatorial race, Ron DeSantis, used a pair of political rallies this week to collect donations for storm victims, Politico reported. The Sunshine State’s governor since 2011, Scott is not seeking re-election, instead vying for a seat on the U.S. Senate.

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

On Twitter, Sen. Marco Rubio described the scene in Mexico Beach as “total devastation” and said drone images produced “audible gasps” at one emergency operations center.

The U.S. Coast Guard had rescued about 40 people as of 6:30 p.m. EDT Thursday and assisted 232 others, including 142 nursing home patients, according to a news release. Response teams were also working to remove roadway debris to clear paths for emergency services.

“The general public should remain cautious, even in ideal conditions, and be aware of hazards, storm surge debris, and possible flooding conditions due to the hurricane,” the Coast Guard said in the release.

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).

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

 

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