PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — Trees brought down by Hurricane Michael’s ferocious winds took a heavy toll on life, property and the timber industry in the heavily forested Florida Panhandle, where $3 billion in timber was lost, authorities said Friday.
A firefighter became the latest death attributed to the storm when he was killed by a falling tree while helping clear debris with family members more than a week after Michael blew ashore with 255 mph winds.
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Fire coordinator Brad Price, 49, of Wewahitchka was on his tractor when he was killed Thursday, the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office said on its official Facebook page.
“We love you, grieve with you, and are praying for all of you,” Gulf County firefighters said on their Facebook page.
That brought the storm’s death toll in Florida to 25, and 35 overall across the South — where, in addition to tree falls, deaths came when the storm decimated homes with winds and storm surge, cut power to those reliant on electricity for medical conditions and swept away cars in flash floods.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said that along with the $3 billion in timber losses, pulp mills, sawmills and other production facilities were damaged in 11 of the top timber-producing counties in state.
“This is a catastrophic loss to the forest industry in the Florida Panhandle,” Putnam said in a news release.
Officials also were concerned that downed trees could pose a fire hazard. Forest Service Director Jim Karels said the danger grows as the debris dries. The agency is working to clear the debris and establish fire lines that could help contain forest fire, he said.
In the swath of Florida’s Panhandle devastated by the storm, daily life has become a series of frustrations large and small: Missing relatives and worries that looters are just outside the door. No power, no air conditioning, no schools, no information and little real improvement in sight.
Erin Maxwell waited in line for fuel for more than an hour Thursday at a gas station that never opened.
“I’m tired and want to go to sleep. I don’t want to wait in another line,” said Maxwell, eyes closed and her head tilted back on the seat.
Meanwhile, husband Mickey Calhoun fretted over the fate of his mother, Anita Newsome, 74. The retired sheriff’s deputy was last seen when officers took her to a hospital the day before Michael made landfall, her son said.
“We can’t find her or get word anywhere,” said an exasperated Calhoun, 54, wearing stained khaki pants and a dingy towel draped around his neck.
A few miles away, 70-year-old Ed Kirkpatrick and his 72-year-old wife, Sandra Sheffield, huddled together in a splintered mobile home surrounded by fallen pine trees. A noisy generator powered the old box fan blowing warm air across their den. They’re both afraid to leave because of widespread reports of looting.
The man, a diabetic who has a big scar down the middle of his chest from heart surgery, needed medical attention and ice to refrigerate his insulin, said Sheffield, who has a pacemaker. But getting out in traffic takes hours and precious fuel, she said, and looters could show up at any time.
“I don’t want to go anywhere because I know I’m safe here,” said Sheffield, burying her head in a twisted towel to cry.
— Associated Press writers Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida, and Freida Frisaro in Miami contributed to this report.