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Rescue efforts in Florida intensify as death toll from Michael rises

The death toll was expected to rise this weekend in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael as hundreds remained unaccounted for in Florida, where decimated communities remained cut off and in the dark. The storm is expected to track over Newfoundland and Labrador's Grand Banks and head out to sea today.

At least 18 killed in United States; storm tracking over N.L.'s Grand Banks today

A Miami firefighter searches for survivors on Friday in Mexico Beach, Fla. The beach-side town of about 1,000 people was directly hit by Michael, when it was a Category 4 hurricane. The storm made landfall last Wednesday in the Florida Panhandle. (Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

The death toll was expected to rise this weekend in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael as hundreds remained unaccounted for along the Florida Panhandle where decimated communities remained cut off and in the dark.

As of early Saturday, state officials were reporting that at least 18 have been killed in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

Rescue teams, hampered by power and telephone outages, were going door to door and using cadaver dogs, drones and heavy equipment to look for people in the rubble in Mexico Beach and other Florida coastal communities, such as Port St. Joe and Panama City.

This satellite image taken on Friday shows part of Mexico Beach after the storm swept through. (DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company via AP)

"We still haven't gotten into some of the hardest-hit areas," said Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Friday, noting that he expects to see the number of people killed climb.

Newfoundland expected to see storm surges

The storm is expected to make its exit from Atlantic Canada today — but not before bringing large swells, minor storm surges and changes in water levels to parts of Newfoundland and Labrador.

According to Environment Canada, Michael will quickly track over the Grand Banks and out to sea today.

The national weather forecaster says these conditions can pose a danger to those near the shoreline, but they expect infrastructure impacts to be minor.

Much of Atlantic Canada was hit by heavy rain and winds on Friday. Winds are expected to stay at around 110 km/h as Michael moves east. 

Search continues for Florida survivors

Meanwhile, Houston-based volunteer search-and-rescue network CrowdSource Rescue said its teams were trying to find about 2,100 people either reported missing or stranded and in need of help in Florida, co-founder Matthew Marchetti said.

Social media websites were crowded with messages from those trying to reach missing families in Florida's Bay and Gulf counties.

Marchetti said his volunteer search teams, consisting mostly of off-duty police officers and firefighters, had rescued or accounted for 345 others previously reported to CrowdSource Rescue.

Watch footage of Hurricane Michael's destruction:

Michael crashed ashore near Mexico Beach on Wednesday afternoon as one of the most powerful storms in U.S. history, with winds of up to 250 km/h. It pushed a wall of seawater inland, causing widespread flooding.

The tropical storm, which grew in less than two days into a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, tore apart entire neighbourhoods in the Panhandle, reducing homes to naked concrete foundations or piles of wood and siding.

Dogs and bulldozers

FEMA crews have been using bulldozers and other heavy equipment to push a path through debris so rescuers can sift the rubble using specially trained search dogs.

More than 1,700 search-and-rescue workers have been deployed, Gov. Rick Scott's office said in a statement, including seven swift-water rescue teams and nearly 300 ambulances.

Except for the emergency 911 system, authorities in Bay County, the epicentre of the disaster, were virtually without telephone or internet service until late on Friday, making communications internally and with the public difficult.

Ruth Corley, a spokesperson for the Bay County Sheriff's Department, said local television stations were knocked off the air for two days, and authorities were relying on the Gulf State College radio station to transmit public service bulletins.

By Friday morning the storm remnants were about 440 kilometres southwest of Nantucket, Mass., packing maximum sustained winds of 100 km/h.

More than 940,000 homes and businesses on the U.S. East Coast were without power and it could be weeks before power is restored to the most damaged parts of Florida.

With files from The Canadian Press

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