New York Times

Residents of Florida Coast Increasingly Desperate for Food and Shelter

Residents of Florida Coast Increasingly Desperate for Food and Shelter

People salvaged supplies from a destroyed business the day after Hurricane Michael made landfall.CreditCreditEric Thayer for The New York Times

SPRINGFIELD, Fla. — In this storm-ravaged town, where homes have been battered and even food and water are in short supply, Martha and Lindsay Brown have been sleeping in their car.

Much of the roof of their two-bedroom rental home failed when it was hit by Hurricane Matthew’s 155-mile-per-hour winds, and they had no luck when they contacted the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency looking for help.

“They referred us to two shelters, but they were already full,” said Ms. Brown, 60, a former government worker. “There’s nowhere to go.”

Government officials were racing Friday to find a way to get food and water to the increasingly desperate people of the Florida Panhandle hammered by Hurricane Michael.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, it was becoming increasingly clear that many residents were not only left without a habitable home but also without adequate stockpiles of food.

[Follow live updates on Hurricane Michael’s aftermath]

At a badly damaged Dollar General store on Thursday, residents trickled in through an open door whose glass had been shattered. Some took things they wanted, but most took things they needed — drinks and food.

“Where’s the water?” one man asked. Another asked where he could find batteries. He said he had two small children and when night fell, they were living in total darkness. A pair of men went in stealthily and came out with two large boxes of Gain laundry detergent.

Across the street from the Browns, 11 people said they had crammed into a tiny duplex to spend the night, their own homes battered and open to the elements. Carl Jones, 43, said that they had seen no hint of government response as of Thursday night — “only thing is the police came and said you’ve got to be inside” at nightfall, he said.

Many residents said their food and water were running out. They were worried about the small children among them. One man said he had been driving over to the nearby bay and filling buckets with water to flush the toilets.

“When is anybody coming to do something?” said Trenisa Smith, 48, a school bus driver who had been giving herself insulin treatments in the back of her car. “I’m worried every day. We’re worried.”

In and around the nearby town of Panama City, there were reports of stores opening in some areas, but many neighborhoods remained without running water or electricity, and could stay that way for days.

Officials said that National Guard troops had begun moving through neighborhoods distributing meals and water, and others, including the American Red Cross, were racing to set up feeding stations. And Bay County school officials were contemplating opening up more shelters, with so many people left with homes that were uninhabitable or destroyed.

But Brock Long, the administrator of FEMA, said emergency responders were focused still on search-and-rescue efforts, and on reaching the hardest-hit areas of the Panhandle. It could be a while before people can return to their homes, he said.

“Bottom line, it was one of the most powerful storms the country has seen since 1851,” Mr. Long said at a briefing on Friday morning. “It’s going to be long time before they can get back.”

He said workers were trying to clear roads and safely remove downed power lines and ruptured gas lines to help make it safe for residents to return to their homes.

“There is no infrastructure there to support you,” he warned. “Doing so, you are putting your life in danger.”

Mr. Brown, who is 57, said he and his wife would have avoided sleeping in the car and headed further north to find a hotel, but felt they needed to remain close to their home. Already, there have been reports of looting at stores up the street.

He expected it to grow worse at nightfall.

“As soon as that sun goes down,” he said, “oh boy.”

Matthew Haag contributed reporting from New York.

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