Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey told reporters that there were 289 people still in the city when the storm hit, despite the mandatory evacuation orders. Cathey and a city clerk both confirmed that as of Sunday, 46 of those people are still missing.
“If we lose only one life, to me that’s going to be a miracle,” Cathey said to the Associated Press.
Ten of the people who stayed behind are reportedly children, though there is still no word on how many of them are among the missing. Mexico Beach was nearly leveled by Michael, a Category 4 hurricane with wind speeds only a few miles per hour shy of a Category 5. The town has a population of just 1,200 people total, and current estimates state that three out of every four buildings was damaged beyond repair.
“We don’t have a building — from my understanding, the water surge moved it off its foundation,” Police Chief Anthony Kelly said of the local station. “The officers, I finally made accountability of them all today, two days after the fact. … They’re not just my officers, the people that I work with, they’re my family.”
Across the south-eastern United States, 18 people have died as a result of Hurricane Michael. The storm made landfall on the Florida panhandle, but kept moving across the state, with a heavy effect in Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia. It caused flash floods, heavy storms and massive power outages, which continue to this day.
So far, only one death has been attributed to Mexico Beach. Crews are reportedly using heavy equipment to sift through debris, hoping to find survivors or remains of those that are still unaccounted for. As police pointed out, however, they have no way of knowing who may have left during the storm, or immediately after it. They swept the town twice to make a list of all those who were planning to remain, and there is a chance that between their final count and the reconstruction effort, people got out somehow.
Meanwhile, over 190,000 Florida homes and businesses remain without power, and another 120,000 in Georgia as well. The people remaining in or returning to Mexico Beach say that they had plenty of food and supplies to go around, but without power for appliances, much of it spoiled.
“We need a generator, but we just lack transportation,” said survivor Diana Hughes. “We’ve got food and we’ve got water. But we’ve got to keep ice in the refrigerator so the food won’t spoil. You can only eat so many crackers.”