Carefully, the search and rescue team examines what is left of a house devastated by Hurricane Michael when it blasted through this small waterfront community days earlier.
Wearing a hard hat and with a hammer in hand, chief Dobson, one of several hundred people searching for survivors in the ruins of Mexico Beach, gingerly climbs the rickety stairs to Number 2603.
“Fire rescue, anybody home?” Dobson calls out, before his men follow him up the stairs.
“Second floor clear,” a team member shouts from the landing. “Search clear, we do the third floor.”
Two beds are all that’s left of a top floor room whose roof and exterior walls were torn away by the Category 4 storm, which made landfall Wednesday at Mexico Beach packing 155 mile an hour (250 kilometer an hour) winds.
To wrap up the inspection, Dobson’s five member team bring in a black labrador retriever, which makes a final sweep of the rubble around the house.
His team has come here from Miami, deployed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The first contingent arrived on Wednesday, and have worked without let up since then.
“We stay 10 to 15 minutes in each house. It depends on the size of the structure and how much damage there is,” Dobson says.
Scott Deane, the head of FEMA’s urban search and rescue unit in Florida, says they will stay as long as they are needed.
“We want to make sure that we identify any individual that potentially stayed in their place, try to make contact, (and) if they are injured get them proper medical attention,” he said.
– ‘All you see is devastation’ –
Of the 1,000 or so residents of Mexico Beach, about 200 ignored evacuation orders.
About 20 residents have been rescued and a family of four was evacuated, as have pets left behind by their owners.
Once the area has been completed cleared, the search and rescue teams will move to other areas “to make sure the whole county is searched properly.”
Mexico Beach police chief, Anthony Kelly, said it was tough to get people to leave their homes as the hurricane approached.
“We were here 60 miles before the storm hit and there was still people in town that would not leave. We went door to door, every single house.
“There were too many people, including with children that did not want to leave. We came back around, made a second attempt, some still chose to stay,” he said.
For now, only one death has been confirmed in Mexico Beach — the death toll overall stands at 17 — but Kelly said it was “possible” another body might be found.
“Here today the weather is just as beautiful as it can be, but you look around, all you see is devastation, its god awful,” he says.
“Hopefully we will not (find more dead) but realistically it’s a possibility,” he said.
There is still no water, electricity or telephone service in Mexico Beach, adding to the hardship.
“Right now what we need is the possibility for the people to use the restrooms and something that they can shower off. Some of the people have not taken a shower for four or five days.
“It’s just bad, it’s a bad situation,” he said.