Hurricane Michael leaves homes, businesses destroyed in the Florida Panhandle

MEXICO BEACH, Fla. (WSVN) – The death toll from Hurricane Michael stands at more than a dozen, but officials expect that number to rise as recovery efforts get underway.

Parts of the Florida Panhandle have changed forever after Hurricane Michael.

“I didn’t expect to come home to a gaping hole in my roof,” survivor Karen Watson said, “but at least I have a house. I know some that do not have a house. I lived through Andrew. I just never thought I would go through this again.”

Drone video showed the devastation on Panama City Beach. And to the east, the small beach community of Mexico Beach, where Michael made landfall just shy of a Category 5.

The storm surge there so high it bulldozed homes and left all but a sliver of the town intact.

“We’re mom and pop, this isn’t Hampton Inn and Pizza Hut and Walmart,” Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey said. “75 percent of our city’s not here. There’s not one local business here.”

But the community has rallied together. “Mexico Beach united” was spotted spray painted on a sheet hanging from a home.

Gayle Sweet lost her husband when a tree fell on their home near Greensboro.

“He was one of a kind. So kind. He’d help anybody,” Sweet said. “Always giving money to people at the stop signs and stuff. Would help anybody.”

In Panama City, rescuers are going door-to-door looking for survivors with the help of search dogs, sniffing through the debris fields.

The death toll now at 17 across four states, but the number could rise as search crews sift through towns and communities leveled by the storm.

Among those on the ground, a team of Fort Lauderdale firefighters working with FEMA.

“There’s a lot of waterways over there,” one rescuer said.

Drones just one of the tools Miami Fire Rescue’s task force 2 is using in the Panhandle to help with recovery efforts.

Along with the cleanup and getting power restored to more than 750,000 customers, survivors are left with the emotional impact.

“It’s tough but the emotional aftermath toll of a hurricane, the aftermath, is what gets ya,” Watson said. “Cause you gotta survive the rest of this.”

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