Thieves take advantage of rough conditions to steal from Hurricane Michael victims
PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — Authorities say they’re arresting about 10 suspected looters a night in an area of the Florida Panhandle left in the dark since Hurricane Michael crashed ashore a week ago.
Bay County Sheriff’s Maj. Jimmy Stanford tells the News Herald that looters have targeted homes and businesses and they’re almost always armed.
Victoria Smith says thieves entered her powerless townhome while she and her four children were sleeping with the front door open and snatched her purse, which she was clutching to her chest. She said she was so exhausted she didn’t even hear them.
In some areas of the county, spray-painted signs warn “Looters will be shot.”
Stanford says it’s been a stressful time for officers, many of whom lost their homes but are working 16 hour shifts. He says the influx of resources and officers from other areas will help quell the lawlessness.
The scope of the Hurricane Michael’s fury has become clearer after nearly a week of missing-persons reports and desperate searches of the Florida Panhandle neighborhoods devastated by the most powerful hurricane to hit the continental U.S. in nearly 50 years.
Florida officials say the storm is responsible for at least 16 deaths in the state. That count was twice the number previously tallied by The Associated Press.
The AP’s tally also includes 10 deaths in Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina.
Emergency management officials say 137,000 Florida customers remain without power in an 11-county region that stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to the Georgia border.
But a glimmer of hope has emerged now that cellphone service has started to return to the stricken zone.