Days after powerful Hurricane Michael made landfall Wednesday just north of Mexico Beach, Florida, thousands of people have been reported missing to local authorities and at least 17 people have been confirmed killed by the storm’s 155-mph winds and record storm surge.
“It’s frustrating to us because we repeat this same cycle over and over again,” Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) chief Brock Long angrily said at a press conference as he lashed out at Floridians who did not evacuate before Hurricane Michael hit the state. “If you want to live in these areas, you’ve got to do it in a more resilient fashion.”
“A lot of people don’t pay attention to anything we say or do when it’s a blue-sky day and nothing’s happening,” Long said.
“It’s frustrating to us because we repeat this cycle over and over again,” he continued. “You see this enough in your career, you get ticked off about it.”
Michael made landfall Wednesday with 155 mph winds and record storm surge, killing at least 12 people and leaving widespread ruin in its wake. Long called it “one of the most devastating storms this country has seen since 1851.”
Authorities had urged residents of the Florida Panhandle to evacuate ahead of the catastrophic storm, placing 13 counties under mandatory evacuation orders and six others under voluntary evacuation orders.
“Anybody that doesn’t heed a warning to evacuate, particularly the coast, we ask them to do so because of the ocean rising and pushing buildings down. Very few people live to tell what it’s like to experience storm surge,” Long said.
He lamented that people in vulnerable areas have ignored lessons from previous disasters like Hurricane Katrina which killed 1,833 in 2005.
“Unfortunately in this country, we seem to not learn the lesson,” he said. “You’ve got to mitigate your homes. You’ve got to understand why we ask you to evacuate.”
Despite the dire warnings and several days of advanced warning, many many low-income residents in the storm’s path could not afford to leave their homes.
Janelle Frost and Tracy Dunn told CNN they were staying put in nearby Panama City Beach. They said they wanted to stay to help those who couldn’t afford to leave, such as retirees.
“There’s so many people that live around where we’re at, and we wanted to make sure they’re OK,” Frost said. “We made the decision to stay to try and help them.”
Here are before-and-after images of the hardest-hit Florida town, Mexico Beach:
The storm surge’s devastation continued further down the coast in Mexico Beach: