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PANAMA CITY (CBSMiami/CNN) – Residents of the Panhandle who have been allowed to return to their homes are getting the first look at the destructive power of Hurricane Michael.
The US death toll has risen to at least 13 — including five in Virginia and four in Florida — and it’s expected to climb.
“I expect the fatality count to rise today and tomorrow as we get through the debris,” Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said Friday morning.
In Panama City, the 323-bed Bay Medical Sacred Heart Hospital was just one of 32 healthcare facilities in the area that were being evacuated.
There is some good news as help begins to arrive in the form of water and ice.
“Any help that we can get is the best,” said Isarye Matsos. “We were without water and ice so thank God they came over.”
A relief truck arrived on Panama City Beach mid-morning loaded with eight pallets of water and four pallets of ice.
Matos, who once lived in Homestead, heard about the supplies on the radio. Others found out through word of mouth since most people don’t have cell phone service.
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis organized the donation drive. The truck was unloaded at his family’s restaurant and the response brought him to tears.
“It’s nice to see your hometown (getting a little choked up), even if its torn up, so um anyway, it’s a little tough” he said.
“I’m thankful for God sparing our lives. I’m grateful for whoever is giving us water today and ice,” said Delta Allen.
On top of helping his community recover, he’s also helping to lead the search and rescue operation.
Hurricane Michael’s 155 mph winds heavily damaged or leveled buildings in the Panhandle. Patronis said crews have checked 1,800 buildings so far and all have been empty. He said he’s grateful for that but the community faces a great need.
“Those hospitals, the ones that my kids were born in and the ones that I was born in are closed,” he said.
Down the street from Patronis’ family restaurant, people were able to get hot meals from the group “Operation Barbecue Rescue.” The group is handing out about 20,000 meals a day in Panama City and Tallahassee.
Mexico Beach was ground zero for the powerful Category 4 hurricane and it looks like it. There’s nothing but concrete slabs where houses and businesses once stood.
“It’s total devastation. It’s leveled. Things that were on the beach are now on the other side of the street,” said one woman.
Trees are snapped, boats litter the side streets of a canal and the city’s water tower is tipped over.
Nearly 300 of the city’s one thousand residents didn’t head mandatory evacuation orders. The National Guard found 20 survivors Wednesday night.
Gerrie and Pam Barr ran from their veterinarian hospital in Panama City Beach to a former bank building across the street to ride out the storm.
“We were in the vault,” said Pam Barr.
“Pam and I were in the vault with three animals,” said Gerrie Barr.
The Barrs said they felt safe inside the vault and couldn’t really hear the storm.
“It was very interesting because when the roof blew off after we had only been there an hour, there was a tremendous noise and you could tell something very bad had happened,” said Gerrie Barr.
That’s when the vault ceiling began leaking and caving in. The Barrs started praying.
“We held hands and thought whatever is going to happen is going to happen and we’re together so it’s okay,” said Pam Barr.
The couple said all of the animals under their care survived the storm.
In Bay County, which includes Mexico Beach and Panama City, 98 percent are without power. Gulf Power said it expects power to be restored in about a week.
A number of roads to the coast remain closed. It’s unclear when stores will be restocked and re-opened.
CBS4’s Ty Russell talked with some of those who chose not to evacuate. They said they now regret that decision because there are too many downed trees, making the roads inaccessible, and downed power lines and they are not prepared to spend the next seven to ten days without power. They said they didn’t stock up on enough food and water and its impossible to get gas.
(©2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. CNN contributed to this report.)