The first footage is emerging of the “unimaginable destruction” Hurricane Michael left behind in Mexico Beach, Florida – the small city where the Category 4 storm made landfall on Wednesday.
“So many lives have been changed forever. So many families have lost everything. Homes are gone, businesses are gone. Roads and infrastructure along the storm’s path have been destroyed,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said at a briefing on Thursday morning.
Hurricane Michael is the third-most powerful storm ever recorded to hit the U.S. mainland, bringing 155 mph winds.
“This hurricane was an absolute monster,” Scott said. “And the damage left in its wake is still yet to be fully understood.”
Search and rescue teams have been deployed the hardest hit areas, including Panama City and Mexico Beach. The National Guard entered Mexico Beach on Wednesday night and found 20 people who had remained in the town through the storm, the governor said.
Many roads around the town were difficult to access by Thursday, as fallen trees, power lines and other debris blocked the way.
Scott said he would join the Florida National Guard to survey the damage in Panama City and Mexico Beach on Thursday.
In Mexico Beach, aerial footage from news crews showed that whole homes had been destroyed and many were flooded on Thursday.
The Florida Department of Transportation is leading an effort with “dozens of crews” to clear roadways so first responders can access more areas that have been affected by the storm, the governor said.
He encouraged people to remain in place and to avoid trying to access roads while rescue operations were still ongoing.
“Do not get out on the roads today. Do not travel home today. Roads are not open and you will not be able to get home if you live in or near the coast,” the governor said Thursday morning. I know this has to be very very frustrating. I know you just want to go home, you want to check on things and begin the recovery process. We are working as quickly as possible to make that happen. But first we need your help, your patience and your understanding that before you return we have to make sure things are safe.”
This warning also applied to people who stayed in places like Mexico Beach through the storm.
“If it is not safe to leave your house, don’t leave it, don’t take a chance,” Scott said. “If you and your family made it through the storm safely, which I pray that you did, the worst thing you can do now is to act foolishly and put yourself and your family in danger or keep law enforcement and rescue workers from saving somebody’s life. I cannot stress this enough.”
The governor said that 35,000 National Guard troops had been activated to help with recovery efforts and that the state was borrowing 15 helicopters or other aviation assets from other states. The Florida health department had 80 ambulance strike teams and 400 ambulances ready, and the state is giving out two million meals and one million gallons of drinking water.