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Amid darkness and debris, relief operations seek to sustain hurricane survivors

Almost a week after Hurricane Michael devastated the Florida Panhandle, electricity remains off in Panama City, and debris is so widespread that a curfew prohibits travel after dark. Only a small proportion of residents evacuated before the storm hit; the rest are now in need of food and hydration. Amna Nawaz speaks with the Salvation Army's Alvin Migues for more on the damage and relief effort.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Also tonight, the ongoing aftermath of Hurricane Michael. The death toll in Florida doubled today to 16. That makes 26 deaths in all, over four states. But there are signs of recovery. Cell phone service largely returned today in the Florida Panhandle.

    Alvin Migues is with the Salvation Army's Emergency Disaster Services. He's been distributing food and water to storm survivors, and joins me from Panama City, Florida.

    Alvin Migues, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    Now, you have gone down troops set a command post, basically. Give me a sense of what kind of services you're providing right now and how many people you're serving in that area.

  • Alvin Migues:

    So, Amna, the Salvation Army is — came into the area last Tuesday with our incident command team from Texas. We came into the Panama City area.

    We came in with 26 campaigns to start immediate service here. My understanding is that the evacuation order went out to over 120,000 people. And only about 20,000 of them heeded the warning. So there were — there were at least 100,000 people that we needed to feed very quickly.

    It's obviously been a challenge with the conditions that we're seeing here in Panama City.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We have been seeing some of those pictures, of course, the devastation by those incredibly powerful winds, 155 miles per hour when the hurricane came ashore.

    Give me a sense from what you have seen there on the ground. What's the devastation that you're seeing? What are the immediate needs that need to be met even now, a week later?

  • Alvin Migues:

    When I came into town, it was — it appeared as though an F5 tornado has ripped through this community.

    I mean, there's damage equivalent to what you have seen in the Joplin, Missouri, area a few years ago. I remember going into a small town in Alabama a few years back, 2010, similar conditions. I mean, but this is so widespread, it's just like — I believe the president, he said yesterday it looked like a huge tornado just ripped through this town.

    There's building knocked down. There's trees scattered about. It's just — it's just total devastation. Power lines everywhere. It's a mess.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Alvin Migues, you have responded to events like this in the past. Tell me about some of the difficulties and the challenges that are unique in this situation.

  • Alvin Migues:

    One of the challenges for us is just moving around the town right now.

    Tuesday, when we came down, we started over from Pensacola to this area early in the morning, around 7:00, and it was typically about a two-hour drive, and it took close to seven hours actually get on the ground over here to where we needed to be because of the debris, of the number of people trying to get into town at the same time.

    The roads have just been very congested. I mean, it takes as many — as much as an hour to get two or three miles down the road sometimes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Now, we understand, because of the lack of electricity and lights, there was a curfew in place. Is that still in place? And how does that affect the work that you do?

  • Alvin Migues:

    Yes. So there is a curfew. And we try to work around that as much as possible. We don't want to be out on the streets.

    The challenge is, as dark as it is, with no electricity, there are just dangers of things that could be hanging down low that you don't want to run into. You can't see them because there's blackness. It's just pitch black.

    So after the sun goes down, it's really a safety issue for everybody. But we work diligently to get our crews out with their food as early as possible so that they're back on the road, headed back into our staging area, try to be in before — as power comes back on, we will be able to start to do some different things.

    Right now, it's mainly feeding and hydration. We will start looking at doing some types of distribution of products, cleaning supplies, those types of things in the near future, once we can get those commodities in here.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Alvin Migues of the Salvation Army, thank you very much.

  • Alvin Migues:

    Thank you.

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