Lack of power, phones hamper rescue efforts after hurricane

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Florida: A lack of power and phone service in the areas of Florida flattened by Hurricane Michael last week was hindering efforts on Wednesday to distribute food and water and to contact residents not heard from since the storm ploughed through the state’s Panhandle.
The hurricane, one of the most powerful storms on record to hit the continental United States, killed at least 27 people. It packed top sustained winds of 250 km per hour and unleashed a surge of seawater that demolished homes.
Florida officials have not said how many people are missing. Many people may not be able to call friends and family or may be staying elsewhere and are not necessarily presumed dead. Debris, downed trees and power lines have hampered access to stranded people.
Teams made up of hundreds of volunteers with the Houston-based CrowdSource Rescue organisation were searching for more than 1,135 people in Florida who lost contact with friends and family, Matthew Marchetti, co-founder of Houston-based CrowdSource Rescue.
Most of those missing are from Panama City and many are elderly, disabled, impoverished, or live alone, Marchetti said. He said the search has been hindered by spotty cell phone coverage in the devastated area, though authorities are making progress in restoring communications.
Many residents have also expressed frustration at the slow pace of recovery of wireless networks. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Tuesday called for wireless carriers to waive bills for customers affected by the storm.
The death toll includes 17 in Florida, one in Georgia, three in North Carolina and six in Virginia, according to a Reuters tally of official reports. Officials said medical examiners were determining whether another four deaths in Florida resulted from the storm.
About 35,000 Floridians have called the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) seeking help since and the agency has already approved $1 million in assistance for people in 12 counties, spokesman Ruben Brown in Tallahassee said.
FEMA has distributed about 4.5 million meals, more than 5 million litres of water and 9 million infant-and-toddler kits, he said.
The state government is distributing ice, water and about 3 million ready-to-eat meals, Governor Rick Scott’s office said. — Reuters