Hurricane Michael aftermath: Death toll spikes to at least 15
Hurricane Michael is no more. The violent storm that ripped through the Southeast, leaving a trail of death and destruction from Florida to Virginia, finally moved off the coast over the Atlantic Ocean overnight. It is now known as Post-Tropical Cyclone Michael.
Michael made landfall in the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday as a Category 4 hurricane - the strongest on record to hit the area - and charged north through Georgia and into the Carolinas and Virginia, wreaking havoc and causing emergencies. In the storm's wake lay crushed and flooded buildings, shattered lives and at least 15 deaths that state and local officials have linked to the storm, with authorities investigating another three deaths.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said two people - a man and a woman - were killed in McDowell County when their car hit a large tree that had fallen on the road. State and local officials previously said a man in the state was killed Thursday when a tree fell on his car in Iredell County.
"We extend our heartfelt sympathy to the loved ones and friends of those killed," Cooper said in a statement.
Meanwhile, officials in Georgia confirmed that a second life had been lost there, after an 11-year-old girl in Seminole County was killed while in a mobile home when the wind hurled a metal carport into the air. The Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency on Friday morning said another person had died in the state. The agency declined to provide additional details on the death beyond saying it occurred in Wayne County.
Virginia authorities said they had confirmed five deaths there and had one person still missing Friday.
In Gadsden County, Florida, the sheriff's office said Thursday they had four "storm-related fatalities following Hurricane Michael," although they had only confirmed the details of one death: a man killed when a tree crashed through the roof of his home. A spokeswoman said the four deaths had been forwarded to the medical examiner's office, but additional details were not immediately available.
Authorities have warned that the storm's death toll was likely to climb as they were able to head into the areas - such as Mexico Beach, Florida - that endured particular damage this week. FEMA Administrator William "Brock" Long said he believed that the toll would increase, particularly as first responders got into places like Mexico Beach.
"Unfortunately, I think you're going to see that number climb," Long said Friday morning. "I hope we don't see it climb dramatically."
Five people are dead and one is still missing in Virginia after the area was hit by Hurricane Michael. In Charlotte County, three people became stranded in a vehicle on a bridge along Mt. Harmony Road, according to state police.
When rescuers arrived, they were clinging to the railings of a bridge as high waters surrounded them. A local sheriff's deputy saved a 17-year-old man using a human chain with law enforcement officers, local residents and rope, officials said, but a man and a woman - who police said are related to the teenager - were swept away. Rescuers found the body of the man overnight and the woman is still missing.
In Pittsylvania County, a 45-year-old man died after he was swept away from his vehicle. A sheriff's deputy and a local resident tried to rescue James E. King Jr., state police said, but the floodwaters were too deep and too swift.
In Hanover County, a firefighter died and four others were injured, including three seriously, after a tractor trailer crashed into them as they tried to help with another crash involving two vehicles along Interstate 295 outside Mechanicsville, Va.
And in Danville, two people died after being swept away by flood waters. One man, William Lynn Tanksley, 53, was swept from his vehicle during flash flooding at around 5 p.m. Thursday. Another person, who police have not yet identified, was stranded in a car overcome by flooding at around 10:20 p.m.
FEMA Administrator William "Brock" Long said Friday morning that the death toll from Hurricane Michael is likely to go up as rescue workers are able to venture more deeply into the areas devastated by the storm.
"Unfortunately, I think you're going to see that number climb," Long said. "I hope we don't see it climb dramatically. But I have reasons to believe - we haven't gotten into some of the hardest hit areas, particularly the Mexico Beach area."
Long said the storm posed a direct threat to people who ignored warnings and evacuation orders on the coastlines, particularly given the threat of storm surge capable of tearing apart and flattening buildings.
"Very few people live to tell what it's like to experience storm surge," he said.
Long asked people in the areas directly hit by the storm to be patient for what is poised to be a long recovery, because it will take time to assess the damage and confront the destruction.
"This is going to be a frustrating event," he said. "It takes time to put things back together."
Long, who plans to head to the area hit by the storm over the weekend, said that in Bay County, Florida - home to Mexico Beach - "it's not safe to return," given the downed power lines and other debris littering the region.
"Quite honestly, it's a dangerous area to go back into," he said.
This article was written by Mark Berman, Dana Hedgpeth, J. Freedom du Lac and Eli Rosenberg, reporters for The Washington Post.