At least 46 people remained unaccounted for on Sunday in Mexico Beach, Florida, an area pulverized by Hurricane Michael, the city’s mayor told ABC News.
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Mayor Al Cathey said that 289 people, including 10 children, decided to stay put, despite evacuation orders, and ride out the Category 4 storm which made landfall on Wednesday and destroyed numerous homes and businesses in Mexico Beach, which has a population of nearly 1,200.
Cathey and Mexico Beach City Clerk Adrian Welle told ABC News that 46 of those who stayed behind were missing Sunday.
Of the 18 people killed as the hurricane swept through the Florida Panhandle, Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina, only one confirmed death has been reported in Mexico Beach.
Hurricane Michael made landfall at Mexico Beach with 155 mph winds.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, toured the hard-hit areas of Mexico Beach, Panama City, Blountstown and Bristol on Sunday.
Police made two sweeps of Mexico Beach on Wednesday morning and recorded names of everyone who planned to stay, though officials said it is impossible to know who might have left during or immediately after the storm.
The storm not only destroyed homes and business in the city, it destroyed the Mexico Beach Police Department.
“We don’t have a building — from my understanding, the water surge moved it off its foundation,” Mexico Beach Police Chief Anthony Kelly told ABC News on Friday. “The officers, I finally made accountability of them all today, two days after the fact. … They’re not just my officers, the people that I work with, they’re my family.”
Emily Mitchell returned on Saturday afternoon to what was left of the house her family owned in Mexico Beach. The roof was ripped off, walls were blown in and she called it a “total loss.” They expect to just bulldoze the lot. They are unsure what their next step will be because her parents had decided they couldn’t afford to pay for hurricane insurance.
“We didn’t want to tell anybody about Mexico Beach because it was such a sweet town, we were scared that people would know about it and keep coming,” she said.
Hurricane Michael’s death toll climbed to 18 on Sunday. Officials expected the number of people killed by the storm to go higher as crews sifted through the wreckage of once-bustling oceanside cities, like Mexico Beach and Panama City Beach.
“There are individuals who are deceased. We do not have a count, but we are working to identify them,” Miami Fire Chief Joseph Zahralban, leader of a search-and-rescue team in Mexico Beach, told The Associated Press.