Gas was in short supply, power outages were rampant and search teams continued their arduous tasks Sunday as Florida’s recovery from Hurricane Michael remained painfully slow along the coast of the state’s battered Panhandle.
There were some victories. Classes will resume Monday at Florida State’s sprawling, 40,000-student campus in Tallahassee and several other area universities. State offices also reopened.
In the Bay County communities of Panama City and Mexico Beach, where the strongest hurricane to hit the Panhandle since record-keeping began slammed onto the coast four days earlier, search-and-rescue crews accompanied by dogs solemnly picked through the rubble of shattered neighborhoods
The storm killed at least 17 people, including one in Mexico Beach. Entire communities were wiped out by the Category 4 storm’s roaring winds, and authorities feared the death toll would rise.
“If we lose only one life, to me, that’s going to be a miracle,” Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey said.
More than 170,000 power customers in Florida remained in the dark Sunday, including more than half the homes and businesses in Bay County. For some, power could be weeks away.
The effort to get schools and hospitals fully operational will be herculean. Bill Husfelt, superintendent of county schools, assessed damage over the weekend and had not decided when they could reopen.
“The superintendent wants everyone to know we are focusing on three things right now: faith, family and our future,” the district said in a Facebook post. “We will open our schools as soon as is feasible, but right now the county is focused on a humanitarian mission.”
Gulf Coast Medical Center in Panama City remained closed because of storm damage. Bay Medical Sacred Heart Hospital had “significant” damage that required evacuation of patients, CEO Scott Campbell said.
“Our hearts are heavy as we begin the process of rebuilding our community following the devastation of Hurricane Michael,” Campbell said.
A silver lining: Emergency rooms at both hospitals remained functioning.
Prison and jails were also hit hard. The state Department of Corrections said 2,600 inmates were evacuated from the Gulf Correctional Institution and Annex. An additional 305 were removed from Calhoun Correctional Institution.
No injuries were reported, and a website was provided for families to determine where their loved ones had been transferred.
“All inmates were secure and had access to food and drinking water through the duration of the storm,” the department said.
President Donald Trump is scheduled to visit the area Monday. The destruction he’ll encounters will be bleak.
“We’re all in this together,” Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum tweeted Sunday. “Our office doors are open to collect supplies and donations for people in North Florida.”