WASHINGTON — At least 13 people are dead across four states in the wake of Michael, and federal emergency management officials say that number will likely rise.
- FEMA: Michael was one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit US
- As of Friday morning, nearly 1 million people without power
- Federal, state officials trying to stabilize health care services
- Federal financial aid available; donations start to come in
Calling Michael one of the most powerful and destructive storms since 1851, FEMA Administrator Brock Long said from the agency's headquarters Friday that rescue workers were pouring into affected areas almost 48 hours after the Category 4 hurricane devastated communities in the Florida Panhandle.
Recovery efforts were just beginning, and many areas were in the dark and hard to access because of blocked roadways. Mexico Beach, Florida — nearly ground zero for landfall — was inaccessible to search and rescue teams.
The U.S. Coast Guard said it has conducted 129 rescues and one animal rescue.
Prepared for the worst
As crews work their way through the rubble, searching for survivors, they are preparing for the worst.
“Our hope is that everyone evacuated or shelter in place in somewhere like a shelter, but we know that’s probably not realistic. We know there will be greater loss of life," FEMA Deputy Administrator Dr. Daniel Kaniewski said.
The violent storm left a trail of death and destruction from Florida to Virginia, leaving some to question if those in its path were alerted early enough.
“They were warned as well as can be expected with a rapidly intensifying hurricane like this," Kaniewski explained. "This is very different than Hurricane Florence, where we had a week to take these actions."
"This time around, Monday, it was a tropical depression," he continued. "Who knew it would be a one mile an hour short of a Category 5 hurricane later in the week?"
FEMA Administrator Brock Long is urging people to learn from the past and build a culture of preparedness.
“What I’m afraid of is "hurricane amnesia" — 10 years is going to go by and we’re going to forget about what happened at Mexico Beach," Long said at a press breifing Friday in Washington.
Long is also directing criticism at different levels of government for not doing enough to protect their citizens from extreme weather.
“When you go back to rebuild these areas that you do so in a resilient fashion," he said. "That we don’t rebuild to the same standards. That we have locals and state governments implement real building codes in this country. It's frustrating for us, because we keep repeating this cycle over and over again.”
In the aftermath of this storm, other officials are also beginning to reflect on how the catastrophic damage could have been prevented.
"Communities need to focus on building codes, building stronger and better ahead of time, so the damage is lessened after a storm hits," Kaniewski said. "It also includes mitigation, investing in stronger buildings, the infrastructure. The stronger it is, the better it's going to resist the wind and the water afterward."
Long said officials were focusing their efforts on shelters and getting supplies to those locations.
Getting power back
As of Friday morning, more than 900,000 homes and businesses in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas were without power, FEMA officials said.
More than 30,000 people in the private industry were trying to get the power grid up and running, but infrastructure has taken a major hit, and it's unclear when power would be restored to certain hardest-hit areas.
As officials process the magnitude of this storm’s destruction, they say they’ll be there for the long haul to help put communities back together.
“Almost certainly FEMA employees will be in the state of Florida in the months and years ahead, just like we have been for the past year for Hurricane Irma," Kaniewski said.
With so many residents unable to reach first-responders to request well-being checks or medical assistance or report missing people, Florida's State Emergency Response Team has set up a web page where people can request assistance.
Another goal for state and federal officials was stabilizing the health care services in North Florida, because so many hospitals took a big hit. Four hospitals and 11 nursing homes were closed. The Department of Health and Human Services, FEMA and state officials were still trying to evacuate patients in certain areas and were setting up triage centers.
"Communities need to focus on building codes, building stronger and better ahead of time, so the damage is lessened after a storm hits," FEMA Deputy Administrator Dr. Daniel Kaniewski said. "It also includes mitigation, investing in stronger buildings, the infrastructure. The stronger it is, the better it's going to resist the wind and the water afterward."
Financial aid coming in
President Donald Trump has expedited a major disaster declaration for the state of Florida, which includes assistance for the counties of Bay, Franklin, Wakulla, Taylor and Gulf counties.
FEMA said those were just initial counties, and it would likely add more counties as more damage assessments are done. Almost 4,000 people registered for that assistance just Friday. If you've experienced damage, you can file a report at DisasterAssistance.gov or on the FEMA app.
The Small Business Administration has made distaster assistance loans available to people in affected areas. Go to DisasterLoan.sba.gov for information.
And the Walt Disney Company is donating $1 million to aid relief efforts in North Florida. The money will go to the Florida Disaster Fund, run by private state agency Volunteer Florida. Disney employees who want to contribute to eligible relief organizations will be matched dollar-for-dollar, Disney said.
Images taken by an NOAA satellite of Mexico Beach, Florida, in the Panhandle show the devastation left behind by Hurricane Michael, one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit the U.S. The hurricane made landfall near Mexico Beach.