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Rescue Workers Still Trying To Find Hurricane Survivors In Mexico Beach, Fla.


From the Gulf Coast all the way north to Virginia, people are taking stock of the damage brought by Hurricane Michael. They're trying to patch up their homes, and they're calculating what they need to get by as help pours into the region. Seventeen people died in the storm, though that number is expected to rise, and photos show large swaths of coastal towns completely flattened. President Trump today made his first visit to some of those damaged Florida communities since Michael struck.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's hard to believe when you're above it in a plane. And to see the total devastation, to see no houses left - not even the pads are left - it's incredible.

CORNISH: That's President Trump there on Fox News. NPR's Quil Lawrence is also surveying the damage and meeting residents near Panama City, Fla. He sent us this report.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: A week ago today in the Florida Panhandle, warnings about a Category 2 hurricane were suddenly urgently updated. The storm would hit closer to Category 5. But for thousands of people, it was too late to leave. In the town of Mexico Beach, for example, more than 200 people told police they intended to stay. Many are still missing. Demolition crews in Mexico Beach have been clearing away what were houses and now look like heaps of matchsticks. Brian Joseph settled down here with his wife and two kids after 22 years in the Air Force. They evacuated. When he got back, he hung a sheet on the front of his wrecked home that says Mexico Beach united. But he's not sure he will rebuild.

BRIAN JOSEPH: There's not going to be services and facilities for folks to live here. Even if you are in a good scenario, you've got to have your own generator and all.

LAWRENCE: Twenty miles west along the coast, much of Panama City is still without power, cell service or Internet. Residents are depending on their car radios to get important information. The local I Heart Radio station has switched to a call-in format.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Really, really desperate news that needs to get out about a missing person.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yes. There's a - Jonathan in Wewahitchka is trying to locate Theresa...

LAWRENCE: Disaster officials also turned to the local radio station to share what they know - where listeners can get gas, food, water and the addresses of the 18 shelters currently housing nearly 2,000 people. Members of a volunteer chainsaw army call in asking where they should go to help clear trees. There are also calls from areas that feel forgotten - rural, poor communities like Youngstown and Fountain.

LINDA ROBINSON: This is Youngstown.


ROBINSON: Not one person from the county or anywhere has been to the Fountain area for helping any of us.

LAWRENCE: Linda Robinson is standing in line outside Waller Elementary School in Youngstown in front of about a hundred people waiting for food and water. No one here has electricity, and they haven't seen a line crew yet. Next to her, Tammy Connoley says she's been in line here for hours.

TAMMY CONNOLEY: On Happyville Road - just to let you know where we are - there's about 200 of us possibly altogether alive. Thank God. All the trees is in it. My home is gone. We're sleeping in tents.

LAWRENCE: All around Youngstown, towering pine trees are snapped at the middle. The wind twisted the tops right off live oak trees. Roberta Fountain is sitting on her walker at the head of the line. She's lived here 63 years. And last week, she watched Hurricane Michael rip the roof right off her house.

ROBERTA FOUNTAIN: The people of our community have went out with saws and picked people up off the ground that have laid there for three and four hours hurt. And we couldn't get a rescue service.

LAWRENCE: Neighbors are helping one another, she says. After nearly a week, it's clear that her patience is wearing thin. Fifteen minutes later, a convoy of powerline trucks rolled into town six days after the storm hit. Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Youngstown, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.