MEXICO BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The Latest on Hurricane Michael (all times local):
Residents of hard-hit Mexico Beach are returning home for the first time since Hurricane Michael to see homes devastated by wind and water and pieces of their lives scattered across the Florida sand.
Nancy Register sobbed uncontrollably Wednesday after finding no trace of the large camper where she’d lived with her husband Taylor. She was particularly distraught over the loss of a black-and-white photo of her mother, who died of cancer.
Husband Taylor Register found little but a stool and a keepsake rock that was given to him by a friend 40 years ago.
Residents who rode out the storm at home have been in Mexico Beach since Michael hit, but authorities told others to stay away for a week after the storm.
Emergency management officials say some 124,500 customers are still without power a week after Hurricane Michael ripped through the Florida Panhandle.
Officials said Wednesday that 54 percent of hard-hit Bay County is still without electricity and about 98 percent of customers in inland Calhoun County still don’t have power to their homes. In rural Jackson County, which borders Alabama and Georgia, 83 percent of customers have yet to have power restored.
State officials also say 1,157 people were still in shelters Wednesday.
Authorities say they’re arresting about 10 suspected looters a night in an area of the Florida Panhandle left in the dark since Hurricane Michael crashed ashore a week ago.
Bay County Sheriff’s Maj. Jimmy Stanford tells the News Herald that looters have targeted homes and businesses and they’re almost always armed.
Victoria Smith says thieves entered her powerless townhome while she and her four children were sleeping with the front door open and snatched her purse, which she was clutching to her chest. She said she was so exhausted she didn’t even hear them.
In some areas of the county, spray-painted signs warn “Looters will be shot.”
Stanford says it’s been a stressful time for officers, many of whom lost their homes but are working 16 hour shifts. He says the influx of resources and officers from other areas will help quell the lawlessness.
The scope of the Hurricane Michael’s fury has become clearer after nearly a week of missing-persons reports and desperate searches of the Florida Panhandle neighborhoods devastated by the most powerful hurricane to hit the continental U.S. in nearly 50 years.
Florida officials say the storm is responsible for at least 16 deaths in the state. That count was twice the number previously tallied by The Associated Press.
The AP’s tally also includes 10 deaths in Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina.
Emergency management officials say 137,000 Florida customers remain without power in an 11-county region that stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to the Georgia border.
But a glimmer of hope has emerged now that cellphone service has started to return to the stricken zone.
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