Hurricane Michael Death Toll Climbs to 16

One more body has been found in the rubble of an obliterated Florida community, raising the death toll to at least 16 since Category 4 Hurricane Michael made landfall in the Florida Panhandle a week ago, later churning north through Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia as a tropical storm.

“It’s like a war zone,” Florida Governor Rick Scott said as he toured Mexico Beach, the town where the hurricane made landfall earlier this week

State officials say nearly 300 people in Mexico Beach ignored mandatory evacuation orders, but it is unclear if they were able to get out at the last minute.

Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long said he expects the death toll to rise.  “We still haven’t gotten into the hardest-hit areas,” he said.  “Very few people live to tell what it’s like to experience storm surge, and unfortunately in this country we seem to not learn the lesson.”

Tyndall Air Force Base on the Florida Panhandle suffered so much damage that the 3,600 men and women stationed there, and who were evacuated, were told not to come back.  “I will not recall you and your families until we can guarantee your safety,” Colonel Brian Laidlaw said in a statement.  He said he did not know how long recovery efforts would take because “We need to restore basic utilities, clear our roads of trees and power lines, and assess the structural integrity of our buildings.”

Residents and rescue workers in Florida and other southeastern U.S. states are digging through the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Michael, the remnants of which have moved out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Emergency personnel scoured areas where entire blocks of homes and buildings were flattened, searching for survivors.

The storm was the strongest on record to hit the Florida Panhandle and the third most powerful to strike the U.S. mainland.

Large areas of the coast of the Panhandle, including Mexico Beach and Panama City, were left in ruins. The area is home to a number of rural communities that are among the poorest in the state.

In Mexico Beach, entire blocks of houses were razed, boats hurled into yards and the streets cluttered with downed power lines and trees.

The U.S. Army said more than 2,000 Florida National Guard soldiers were helping with recovery efforts.

Utility companies said more than 1 million homes and businesses were without power from Florida to Virginia early Friday.

Michael made landfall in the Florida Panhandle with maximum sustained winds of 249 kilometers per hour, putting it just below the Category 5 status that tops the scale used to describe the strength and destructive potential of hurricanes.

The Atlantic hurricane season began in June and ends November 30.