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article imageIn Florida beach hamlet, not much left after Hurricane Michael

By Cyril JULIEN (AFP)     Oct 12, 2018 in Environment

Walk through the deserted, debris-clogged streets of this little resort town after Hurricane Michael largely destroyed it and, oddly, one of the few things you hear are fire alarms -- blaring away from piles of detritus that used to be people's homes.

That, and the groan of bulldozers clearing away the wreckage left by Michael when it blasted this and other Florida Panhandle towns on Wednesday with 150 mph (240 kph) winds and a huge storm surge.

Mexico Beach used to be a little beach town of about 1,000 people, popular with vacationing families and retirees.

But Michael changed it all, wiping away everything in a stretch of 100 yards or so between the beach and the coastal highway.

Wooden beach bungalows that were built without foundations were simply swept away, leaving empty lots.

Remnants of everyday life -- sinks, washing machines, bikes -- are scattered all over the muddy ground.

Houses that were built with foundations remain standing but their doors and windows were burst open by the force of the most powerful storm to hit the US since 1969 and the strongest ever in this part of Florida.

At the marina, pleasure boats were tossed around like toys, some of them ending up all the way up on the highway.

Most of the town's residents heeded evacuation orders, but some stuck it out - and said the storm's passage was sheer hell.

Rose Loth, 53, hunkered down with her husband and dog and hoped for the best.

"We had one window break. We braced that window to try to let, you know, keep some of the weather out. But then the house started shaking so much. Like 'look, open another window, let the air blow,' Loth told AFP.

"I think that’s the only thing that saved us because the pressure had somewhere to go," said Loth, who works at a military base in the direction of Panama City, another town hit hard by the hurricane.

- "Terrifying" -

Water from a seven-foot storm surge gushed into her garage and dining room. Loth and her husband were the only ones on their block who waited out the storm.

As fire alarms from nearby houses rang out, she said next time a hurricane comes she will evacuate.

There is no water, electricity or cell phone signal.

Other locals who went to Panama City for supplies are now blocked from getting back into Mexico Beach.

Joyce Overstreet, owner of a metal fabricating company, waits in her car for permission to go back home.

She practically shudders as she recounts the hurricane.

"Absolutely bleak, dark, terrifying. And I felt like it wasn’t going to stop. And it was a terrible feeling like this is not going to end," said Overstreet.

On Thursday, bulldozers were out pushing debris to the sides of the roads as rescue teams searched all the mess for survivors or bodies.

Christopher Keller, a rescuer who came with a team from New Orleans, spent the day going door to door.

"We go house to house and check to see if there’s anyone inside that could be trapped," said Keller, who spent three weeks in South Carolina after Hurricane Florence last month.

"A lot of times when the storm surge comes on and all the furniture gets moved around, people get trapped under it and are unable to move around and they may not be able to get out," he said.

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