Families search for missing people in wake of Hurricane Michael

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Five days after Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle, people are struggling to locate missing friends and loved ones.

As US president Donald Trump visited the devastated zone, the death toll from Michael’s march from Florida to Virginia stood at 17, and the search for victims continues.

As the hurricane closed in and more than 375,000 people were warned to evacuate, emergency authorities had expressed frustration that many residents were not leaving.

Donald and Melania Trump
Donald and Melania Trump (AP)

Emergency officials said that because of widespread mobile phone outages, others could be safe and just have not been able to tell friends or family.

Rescue worker Trevor Lewis and the rest of his six-member squad lent their mobile phones to storm victims so that they could contact loved ones for the first time in days. He said he watched them “cry out in joy”.

“Just the desperation in the family members’ voices that hadn’t contacted their loved one for a few days was bad,” he said.

“Then we get on scene and find their family members and they have no food, no water, no power.”

Scenes of devastation in Florida (AP)

Mexico Beach city clerk Adrian Welle told local media on Sunday that 46 people were unaccounted for. That number had previously been 285, but officials think many left right before the storm hit. Other city officials told reporters that the number of missing people stood at three.

A Houston-based organisation called CrowdSource Rescue that takes calls from worried family members and sends the details to rescue crews on the ground said it has helped find nearly 1,500 people across the region since Michael struck.

During his visit to the devastated zone, Mr Trump commended Republican governor Rick Scott for an “incredible” response to the disaster, and said: “You’re a great governor.”

Mr Scott, who is running for the US senate, returned the praise, saying of the president: “Every time I’ve called, he’s come through.”

Some in the affected area were lukewarm about the president’s visit.

Nanya Thompson, 68, of Lynn Haven, said of the president: “He’s doing this, I believe, to project a different image of himself because of all the bad publicity he’s had. He’s not going into get into the sewage water with other people and start digging.

“If this is just going to be another reality show, I don’t think he should come.”

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