Hurricane Michael’s death toll may rise, as rescuers comb through rubble

As search and rescue efforts intensify on Sunday in the beachside communities that Hurricane Michael turned into a debris-filled wasteland, authorities believe it’s a matter of time until the death toll will rise

So far, the death toll stands at 18 people after Michael roared ashore Wednesday in Mexico Beach as a Category 4 hurricane with 155 mph winds and destructive storm surge.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Saturday that the damage caused by the storm is “indescribable and unprecedented,” and that about 1,700 search-and-rescue personnel have checked 25,000 homes.

“Everybody just needs to help each other right now,” Scott said after meeting with emergency responders in the Panama City area.

Lavonia Fortner helps her father-in-law, John E. Fortner, search for memorabilia his wife collected, in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla., Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

“You feel sorry for people,” the governor added. “They might have lost their house. They worry about their kids getting into school. You know, people don’t sit and have a whole bunch of extra money in the bank just waiting for a disaster.”

Patients have been evacuated from eight hospitals in the disaster zone as of Friday, The Tallahassee Democrat reported. The Capital Regional Medical Center, located in Tallahassee, was at full capacity on Saturday after receiving patients from Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center in Panama City.

In Mexico Beach, which bore the brunt of Michael’s strongest winds and highest storm surge, one body was found Saturday in the rubble. Searchers were trying to determine if the person had been alone or was part of a family, according to the Associated Press. As of Sunday, at least 200,000 customers in Florida are still in the dark across 11 counties.

Before Michael hit, state officials said that 285 defied the mandatory evacuation order in Mexico Beach and stayed behind.

About 4,000 members of Florida’s national guard have been called up to deal with the storm, including 500 added on Saturday. Nearly 2,000 law-enforcement officials have been sent into the Panhandle.

Cellphone service also has been out across the state, making it difficult for people to contact friends or family members. Verizon said on Saturday that 10 portable cell sites have been deployed to help restore service.

President Trump announced plans to visit Florida and hard-hit Georgia early next week, but didn’t say what day he would arrive. On Saturday he approved federal disaster aid relief for four Alabama counties affected by the storm.

“We are working very hard on every area and every state that was hit – we are with you!” he tweeted Friday.

Fox News Kathleen Reuschle and The Associated Press contributed to this report.