CBS News October 14, 2018, 9:19 PM Large swath of Florida Panhandle suffering days after Hurricane Michael
MEXICO BEACH, Fla. — Crews with heavy equipment scooped up splintered boards, broken glass, chunks of asphalt and other debris in hurricane-flattened Mexico Beach on Sunday. The death toll from Hurricane Michael's destructive march from Florida to Virginia stood at 19, with just one confirmed death so far in this Florida Panhandle town of about 1,000 people that took a direct hit from the hurricane and its 155 mph winds last week.
Several homes in Cape San Blas were pushed off their foundations by the strong storm surge.
A resident named Mark didn't want to give his last name, but he told police he tried to get his next-door neighbor, an older man, to evacuate, but he refused. "Another friend of mine found him and police recovered the body," Mark told CBS News.
Joseph Zahralban is overseeing the search and recovery missions in Mexico Beach. He said 230 people rode out the storm in this coastal town. After an initial search of homes and debris piles, 79 people are still unaccounted for.
"Today is the first day we are focusing on debris piles — naturally occurring piles that were moved by storm surge and we're beginning to search those as well," Zahralban said.
President Trump plans to visit Florida and Georgia to see the damage Monday.
Four days after the storm struck, a large swath of the Panhandle was suffering, from little beach towns to the larger Panama City to rural communities miles from where the hurricane came ashore. More than 190,000 homes and businesses in Florida were without electricity, along with about 120,000 in Georgia.
In Panama City, the sun was shining down Sunday on members of St. Andrew United Methodist Church. They lost their building, but not their faith.
Pastor John Blount took CBS News inside what's left of the structure that's been a fixture in the community since 1955. The main church bible is still intact with only water damage to some of the pages. "I came in here the next morning, I walked in here and saw the blue sky and I said, 'God is God!"
He said the night of the hurricane, he stayed at the church and helped shelter 25 people inside two bathrooms and this small closet.
His wife, Caroline, returned Sunday after traveling to Alabama with their 11-year-old daughter. "It's unbelievable, and to think they were here in this church, all 25 survived," she said.
In downtown Marianna, Florida, the facades of historic buildings lay in pieces on the ground across from the courthouse. Jill Braxton stopped with a pickup truck loaded with hay, saying many people in rural areas nearby had trapped animals and needed supplies for their livestock.
"We're just trying to help some other people who may not be able to get out of their driveways for a couple of days," Braxton said. "There was a girl that had trapped horses, horses that were down, and horses that really needed vet care that could not get there. There's been animals killed. People lost their cows."
Some victims stranded by the storm managed to summon relief by using logs to spell out "HELP" on the ground, officials in Bay County, which includes Mexico Beach, said in a Facebook post. Official said someone from another county was using an aerial mapping app, noticed the distress message and contacted authorities.
No details were released on who was stranded and what sort of help was needed.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bill Nelson said Tyndall Air Force Base on the Panhandle was heavily damaged, but he promised it would be rebuilt. The Florida Democrat and member of the Armed Services Committee said older buildings on the base were demolished, while newer ones will need substantial repairs.
The base is home to some of the nation's most advanced fighter jets, and Nelson said some hangars were damaged severely. But he gave no information on how many planes were on the base during the storm or how many were damaged.
For the few residents remaining in Mexico Beach, conditions were treacherous.
Florida officials evacuated nearly 3,000 inmates from two hurricane-damaged prisons — the Gulf Correctional Institution and Annex and Calhoun Correctional Institution. They had damage to the roof and the infrastructure critical for security, authorities said. No inmates or staff members were injured.