Thousands of National Guard troops, law enforcement officers and medical teams are working their way into damaged communities to search for survivors of Hurricane Michael. WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody reports that includes first responders from Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties.
Santa Rosa Sheriff Bob Johnson and a dozen members of his office left Wednesday night. Sgt. Rich Aloy says they took with them a “Command Bus” -- a mobile communications center set up like a fixed-building dispatch operation.
“It has emergency service communications inside; computer systems and it also has a satellite system that’s pretty sophisticated,” said Aloy. “That way we can facilitate 911 calls, fire, EMS. That’s the priority to make sure communication services are up.”
Santa Rosa also sent four-wheel drive pickup trucks; all-terrain vehicles or ATVs, and assorted support vehicles to provide law enforcement services and anything else that may be needed. Aloy says additional personnel and equipment likely will be sent as well as part of a mutual aid agreement.
“We build these relationships throughout the state of Florida; we send a lot of folks to different areas,” Aloy says. “It’s just an understanding that if things go down, all hands on deck; everyone’s going to come and help us.”
Bay County – which was solidly in Michel’s crosshairs – sent out a request for assistance at both the state and federal levels. Escambia County Fire-Rescue is among the responding agencies.
“Escambia County Public Safety had formed a strike team with the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office; and we’ve sent over a variety of assets over there,” said ECFR Chief Rusty Nail. “Our emergency medical services – EMS – sending two transports, two fire engines with full crews with special teams training for search and rescue, collapse, things of that nature.”
Michael made landfall at midday Wednesday, scoring a direct hit on Mexico Beach, a town of about 1,200 known as a slice of Old Florida. Homes were shattered or ripped from their foundations. Boats tossed around like toys, and the streets closest to the Gulf of Mexico looked as if a bomb had gone off.
“Docks and beachfront properties literally washed away,” said Tom Flanagan, a journalist with Florida Public Radio. “[Also] some pretty iconic watering holes down there for old-time Floridians who used to grab a quick cold one on the way to and fro, back in the days before aggressive DUI enforcement. Those are gone. So there’s a host of properties which will never be rebuilt.”
Besides Mexico Beach, the heaviest damage appears to be in western Gadsden County, just to the west of Tallahassee.
“The entire county remains under curfew; they do not want people at and about at all,” Flanagan said. “They want them to stay in their homes, off the roads. If they’re in a county shelter hunker down there and wait for the all-clear is given. There was some pretty massive devastation in Gadsden County.”
In Tallahassee, severe damage is reported in residential areas, and also to the capital city’s power infrastructure.
“Close to 90-plus percent of electric customers in Leon, Gadsden, Wakulla and surrounding counties remain without power,” said Flanagan. “That is going to become ever more problematic as time goes on.”
President Trump has issued a major disaster declaration for Florida, opening the door to federal aid to affected individuals in Bay, Franklin, Gulf, Taylor, and Wakulla Counties.