TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (The News Service of Florida) - More than 400,000 utility customers remained without power Thursday morning as thousands of rescue and utility crew members spread out across coastal and rural Panhandle communities to respond to the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Michael.
A state emergency-management official says all hospitals in the impacted region have reported some form of “critical failure” that required patients to be relocated and medical field hospitals to be set up. Similar issues were arising at nursing homes, and crews were flying in supplies to Florida State Hospital at Chattahoochee, which serves patients with mental illness.
Meanwhile, the state is expecting a surge in humanitarian needs, from a lack of food and water to housing.
Prior to traveling Thursday afternoon with the Florida National Guard to Panama City and Mexico Beach, where Michael came ashore midday Wednesday with 155 mile per hour maximum sustained winds, Governor Rick Scott called Wednesday’s storm a monster.
“This morning, Florida’s Gulf Coast, Panhandle and Big Bend are waking up to unimaginable destruction," said Scott. "So many lives have been changed forever. So many families have lost everything. Homes are gone, and businesses are gone.”
Scott, who expressed frustration about people dismissing evacuation orders on Tuesday as Michael rapidly grew into a Category 4 storm, told evacuees not to return home as roads remain closed by flooding, downed trees and power lines.
The Florida National Guard has deployed 3,500 members for search-and-rescue and humanitarian aid, with assistance from National Guard units from as far away as New York and Kansas. The Florida Highway Patrol has 450 troopers working in the Panhandle, while 150 Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers are conducting rescue missions.
Search teams, working by air, boat and on the ground, have entered Panama City, Mexico Beach, Alligator Point, Eastpoint, St. George Island and Apalachicola.
“This hurricane was an absolute monster. The damage left in its wake is yet to be fully understood," said Scott. "Today, the top focus is search and rescue. We pray that Floridians stayed safe.”
The U.S. Coast Guard ran 10 rescue missions into the region Wednesday night.
“If you and your family made it through the storm safely, which I pray that you did, the worst thing you could do now is to act foolishly and put yourself and your family in danger, or to keep law enforcement or rescue workers from saving someone’s life," Scott said. "I cannot stress this enough.”