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World

REUTERS
October 14, 2018

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Hurricane Michael death toll hits 17, may rise: officials

PANAMA CITY, United States: Three days after the devastating passage of Hurricane Michael, search teams in Florida pressed their hunt for victims into hardto- reach areas Saturday, as the death toll rose to 17 and officials scrambled to deliver aid to those who lost everything. Themammoth storm, which made landfall as a Category 4 storm on Wednesday, claimed lives in four states, but the Sunshine State suffered the worst damage by far. Large part of the state´s panhandle were pulverized by the strong winds and rain, and eight storm-related deaths have been reported in Florida so far. "Mexico Beach is devastated," Governor Rick Scott said of the town hardest hit by the hurricane, themost powerful to hit the United States in decades.

"It´s like a war zone," he said while touring the town of 1,000 people on the Gulf of Mexico. Rescue teams with sniffer dogs were searching for possible victims buried under the rubble in the debris-strewn community. USmedia have reported one death in the town -- the body of an elderly man was found hundreds of yards (meters) fromhis home. Brock Long, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), warned that the death toll could yet rise. "I hope we don´t see it climb dramatically but I have reasons to believe we still haven´t got into some of the hardest-hit areas," he said. Government and private relief centreswere opening up to provide badly needed food, water and other aid to peoplewhose lives had been upended by the monster storm.

As somber residents began making it back to their homes, officials said it could take 10 days to compile a final damage estimate. In Mexico Beach, dozens of structures -- homes, shops and restaurants -- were lifted off their foundations by storm surge and winds of 155 miles per hour (250 kph). Some were moved hundreds of feet inland while others were simply smashed to bits. "Very few people live to tell what it´s like to experience storm surge," Long said. "Storm surge causes the most amount of loss of life." Building codes on Florida´s Panhandle, in the state´s northwest, are less rigorous than in the state´s south, where severe hurricanes hit more frequently.

The devastation wrought by Michael has sparked debate on whether an era of warming oceans and more severe storms might require tougher building standards in coastal areas. Underlining the unpredictability of modern storms, a category one hurricane dubbed Leslie was heading Saturday on a highly unusual path toward the Iberian peninsula. Across the storm-hit region in the US, relief efforts were shaping up. In Panama City, Florida, the Salvation Army and other charitable groups opened distribution points for food and supplies. A few stores were reopening, and cars lined up at the few open gas stations.

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