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The death toll from Hurricane Michael’s devastating march up the East Coast rose to 11 on Friday, as the strengthening storm lashed Virginia and left at least five people in the state dead.
The storm was making its way toward the Atlantic Ocean on Friday as a post-tropical cyclone with winds gusting at 65 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The hurricane center said the storm was again gaining strength and could soon move off-shore, but still posed a risk since damaging winds extended 275 miles from its center. North Carolina, where one man was killed, could see additional storm surge. Meanwhile, parts of the Northeast could see up to 5 inches of rain, the hurricane center said.
Virginia was the latest state to feel the storm’s wrath, and will continue to bear the brunt of heavy winds on Friday. Five people in the state were killed in the storm, according to Virginia’s Department of Emergency Management.
One of them was a firefighter, identified as Lt. Brad Clark, who was responding to a traffic accident on slick roads when a tractor-trailer slammed into his engine, according to the Hanover County Fire-EMS Department. Two more emergency responders were seriously injured in the crash, as was the driver of the tractor-trailer, who had to be extracted.
More than half a million customers in Virginia were without power. Flooding could continue to be an issue there through next week.
Another million customers were without power across Maryland, Georgia, Alabama, the Carolinas and Florida, where the storm first made landfall and flattened coastal Panhandle communities.
Julie Touchton, 42, who lives about 3 miles inland and wasn’t told to evacuate, said she has never seen a storm like Hurricane Michael, and has lived near Panama City for 20 years.
“We have all gone through a Cat 3, that’s nothing, but Michael was extraordinary, especially in how fast and strong he grew,” she said.
Touchton and her family left their home to stay with friends because they had no power or running water. She said driving tree-covered roads in neighborhood made getting out a struggle, adding that the destruction there was “catastrophic.”
When the storm approached Georgia, it killed an 11-year-old girl in Seminole when winds picked up a carport and sent it crashing through the roof of a house and struck her in the head.
And in North Carolina, a man was killed when a tree fell onto his car in Iredell County, Gov. Roy Cooper said.
“Unfortunately, I think you’re going to see that number climb,” said Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “We still haven’t gotten into some of the hardest-hit areas, particularly the Mexico Beach area.”
That part of the Florida Coast suffered up to 14 feet of storm surge, Long said, adding, “very few people live to tell what it’s like to experience storm surge.”
Long said many parts of the coastal panhandle were unsafe to visit, and urged people not to try to get back to their houses yet. He said President Donald Trump would have already visited Florida but hasn’t because “his presence could get in the way of the response.”