Published 6:57 PM EDT Oct 12, 2018
MEXICO BEACH, Florida – Specially trained search teams have begun the painstaking task of sifting through the dangerous rubble and debris left by Hurricane Michael when it destroyed this normally picturesque seaside town.
Hundreds of searchers poured into the city on Friday, 48 hours after the storm’s eye came ashore near here, wiping entire neighborhoods from the map, shoving homes off their foundations and punching boats through other houses. Search team leaders declined to comment to a reporter Friday, citing the urgent nature of their work.
Searchers have brought both boats and dogs to help look for any missing people trapped in the rubble, which spills down from the land into the water in a tangle of toilet seats, cassette tapes, plates, curtains and toys.
Meanwhile, heavy equipment operators crunched debris as they tried to make a path through the rubble so searchers could move more effectively. As of Friday afternoon, a crumbled house sat in the middle of U.S. Highway 98, the double-yellow line barely visible beneath it. The blue skies and calm water showed no sign of Michael's fury.
"We’re just trying to get the road open," said Jake Carden of contractor Roads, Inc. of Northwest Florida, as he directed traffic and watched a colleague move rubble with a front-end loader.
A hundred feet away, Kenny Faris was helping his sister-in-law empty out her largely undamaged home, which was somehow blown or floated more than 100 yards from its foundation, the deck still firmly in place. Faris said they weren't sure how to proceed, since the house now sits on someone else's property.
"I've never seen anything like it," he said. "The deck's still there."
Just west of Mexico Beach, damage to Tyndall Air Force Base also appeared widespread, from the thousands of trees knocked down to the crumpled buildings and torn security fencing. The base is home to an F-35 fighter squadron, and Air Force officials say the base took "a direct hit" from the storm and aren't sure when they'll be able to resume normal operations.
"Recovery teams have begun initial assessments of the base and portions of base housing," Tyndall leaders said in a statement. "They have found widespread catastrophic damage and roof damage to nearly every home."