4 days after storm, large swath of Panhandle suffering

MEXICO BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Crews with backhoes and other heavy equipment scooped up splintered boards, broken glass, chunks of asphalt and other debris in hurricane-flattened Mexico Beach on Sunday as the mayor held out hope for the 250 or so residents who may have tried to ride out the storm.

The death toll from Michael's destructive march from Florida to Virginia stood at 17, with just one confirmed death so far in this Florida Panhandle town of about 1,000 people that took a direct hit from the hurricane and its 155 mph winds last week.

Crews worked to clear the building debris along with the rubble from a collapsed section of the beachfront highway.

Mayor Al Cathey estimated 250 residents stayed behind when the hurricane struck, and he said he remained hopeful about their fate. He said search-and-rescue teams in the beach town had already combed areas with the worst damage.

RELATED: Devastating photos show impact of Hurricane Michael

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Devastating photos show impact of Hurricane Michael
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Devastating photos show impact of Hurricane Michael
PANAMA CITY, FL - OCTOBER 10: Phlomena Telker stands on what was her covered porch after hurricane Michael tore the roof of her home as it passed through the area on October 10, 2018 in Panama City, Florida. The hurricane hit the Florida Panhandle as a category 4 storm. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PANAMA CITY, FL - OCTOBER 10: Haley Nelson stands in front of what is left of one of her fathers trailer homes after hurricane Michael passed through the area on October 10, 2018 in Panama City, Florida. The hurricane hit the Florida Panhandle as a category 4 storm. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PANAMA CITY, FL - OCTOBER 10: Rick Teska (L) helps a business owner rescue his dogs from the damagd business after hurricane Michael passed through the area on October 10, 2018 in Panama City, Florida. The hurricane hit the Florida Panhandle as a category 4 storm. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PANAMA CITY, FL - OCTOBER 11: Kathy Coy stands among what is left of her home after Hurricane Michael destroyed it on October 11, 2018 in Panama City, Florida. She said she was in the home when it was blown apart and is thankful to be alive. The hurricane hit the Florida Panhandle as a category 4 storm. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Michael Williams, 70, looks for help from passing motorists for food and water as downed trees prevent him from driving out of his damaged home in the aftermath of hurricane Michael with his family in Springfield, Fla., Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. "I don't know what I'm going to do," said Williams. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
First responders and residents walk along a main street following Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S., October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Dorian Carter looks under furniture for a missing cat after several trees fell on their home during Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. Supercharged by abnormally warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle with terrifying winds of 155 mph Wednesday, splintering homes and submerging neighborhoods. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
PANAMA CITY, FL - OCTOBER 10: People look on at a damaged store after Hurricane Michael passed through on October 10, 2018 in Panama City, Florida. Michael made landfall at Mexico Beach today a Category 4 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph, the most powerful storm ever to hit the Florida Panhandle. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A McDonald's sign damaged by Hurricane Michael is pictured in Panama City Beach, Florida, U.S. October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Aerial photo shows homes destroyed after Hurricane Michael smashed into Florida's northwest coast in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S., October 11, 2018. Chris O'Meara/Pool via REUTERS
PANAMA CITY, FL - OCTOBER 10: A man takes some tobacco products from a damaged store after hurricane Michael passed through the area on October 10, 2018 in Panama City, Florida. The hurricane hit the Florida Panhandle as a category 4 storm. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A resident of St. Marks, Fla., rescues a cooler out of the floodwaters near his home Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. Powerful Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle with terrifying winds of 155 mph Wednesday, splintering homes and submerging neighborhoods before continuing its destructive march inland across the Southeast. It was the most powerful hurricane to hit the continental U.S. in nearly 50 years and at least one death was reported during its passage. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
An American flag flies amongst rubble left in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S. October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
PANAMA CITY, FL - OCTOBER 10: Damaged buildings and a flooded street are seen after hurricane Michael passed through the downtown area on October 10, 2018 in Panama City, Florida. The hurricane hit the Florida Panhandle as a category 4 storm. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PANAMA CITY, FL - OCTOBER 10: People walk past damaged stores after hurricane Michael passed through the downtown area on October 10, 2018 in Panama City, Florida. The hurricane hit the Florida Panhandle as a category 4 storm. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PANAMA CITY, FL - OCTOBER 10: A tree lays on a home and car after hurricane Michael passed through the area on October 10, 2018 in Panama City, Florida. The hurricane hit the Florida Panhandle as a category 4 storm. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
CRAWFORDVILLE - OCTOBER 10: An American flag battered by Hurricane Michael continues to fly in the in the rose colored light of sunset at Shell Point Beach on October 10, 2018 in Crawfordville, Florida.The hurricane hit the Florida Panhandle as a category 4 storm. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)
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"If we lose only one life, to me that's going to be a miracle," Cathey said.

He said enough food and water had been brought in for the residents who remain. Even some cellphone service had returned to the devastated community.

Five days after the storm struck, a large swath of the Panhandle was suffering, from little beach towns to the larger Panama City to rural communities miles from where the hurricane came ashore.

"There are a lot of inland areas, some of these poor rural counties to the north of there. These counties took a devastating hit," Sen. Marco Rubio said on NBC's "Meet The Press."

"And we are talking about poor people, many of them are older, miles from each other, isolated in many cases from roads, including some dirt roads that are cut off right now. We haven't been able to reach those people in a number of days."

Untold numbers of people across the region have damaged homes and no power and don't have the means to relocate, either to a new or temporary place.

More roads were becoming passable as crews cleared trees and power lines, but traffic lights remained out and there were long lines at the few open gas stations.

Florida officials evacuated nearly 3,000 inmates from two hurricane-damaged prisons — the Gulf Correctional Institution and Annex and Calhoun Correctional Institution. They had damage to the roof and the infrastructure critical for security, authorities said. No inmates or staff members were injured.

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Contributors in Florida include Associated Press writers Russ Bynum in Mexico Beach, Brendan Farrington in Panama City, Gary Fineout in Tallahassee

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For the latest on Hurricane Michael, visit https://www.apnews.com/tag/Hurricanes

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