The death toll from Hurricane Michael climbed to 18 Saturday after a victim was discovered in Virginia, but officials think it could climb higher still as search and rescue efforts continue in the most hard hit areas around the Florida Panhandle, CNN reported.
Panama City Fire Department Battalion Chief David Collier told CNN he thought the final death toll just in his city and surrounding communities could reach the double digits.
"Unfortunately, we're probably still going to find people in the coming weeks," Collier told CNN.
He said that national and state rapid response teams had done an initial sweep of the area, but could not access everywhere that was destroyed.
Florida Governor Rick Scott said about 1,700 search and rescue personnel had checked 25,000 homes, the Associated Press reported Saturday.
In a Saturday evening address, Scott further said that more than 1,800 law enforcement officers, 400 ambulances and 700 staff had been sent to Florida's Panhandle and Big Ben, and that 4,000 soldiers and airmen with the Florida National Guard had been activated to help with rescue operations, road clearing and supply delivery, CNN reported.
But for residents in the hardest hit areas, real help was still too slow to come, The Daily Beast reported from Panama City.
As of Saturday morning, they reported that there was no power or water in the city, and no sign of a large presence from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
"We're not getting any help," storm survivor Barbara Sanders told The Daily Beast. "We need food. It's just crazy."
Police had only stopped by to say there was nothing they could do and to advise people to leave.
However, ordinary citizens had stepped up to the plate. Two brothers named Chris and Brendon Hill drove over in a pickup truck filled with water from Louisiana. In Panama City Beach, volunteers set up a kitchen for police, brought water and prepared 1,500 meals to distribute to local residents.
"The American people are helping us," Panama City Beach city manager Mario Gisbert said. "FEMA will eventually come into the game and get the accolades in six months."
Federal, state and local officials, meanwhile, were operating out of an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at Gulf Coast State College and were working out how to distribute food and water as quickly as possible, but EOC spokesperson Catie Feenie said they were still focused on coordinating rescue efforts.
"We're telling everybody to save [food and water] because it will be days before we're ready to do that," Feenie told The Daily Beast.
There are currently two open food and water distribution centers, with more on the way, CNN reported. Scott further tweeted Saturday evening that 142,000 gallons of water and around 174,000 ready made meals had been delivered to affected areas.
But full recovery will take a long time for a region recuperating from one of the strongest hurricanes to hit the U.S. in recorded history. More intense hurricanes like Michael are one of the projected impacts of climate change.
The town of Mexico Beach was essentially reduced to rubble.
"Seventy-five percent of our city is not here," Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey told CNN. "There's not one local business that's operational." He has been told it could take two months to restore power.
Overall, the storm knocked out power for 757,000 people in seven states.For some Florida schoolchildren, normalcy could take even longer to be restored. Bay District School Board Vice Chairman Steve Moss, whose district includes Panama City, said that Michael would displace students from 25 of the district's 38 schools, some for years. Scott said seven districts across Florida were closed until further notice.
Hurricane Michael will go down in history as the third-strongest to hit the continental US in recorded history. Jus… https://t.co/7s25VpbpG5— Greenpeace USA (@Greenpeace USA)1539280820.0
The grapefruit-sized, approximately 18-year-old eastern box turtle was found by a zoo employee at Druid Hill Park in July. The reptile had multiple fractures on the bottom part of his shell and was taken to the zoo's hospital for treatment.
Veterinarians performed surgery on the turtle and used metal bone plates, sewing clasps and surgical wire to hold the shell fragments together.
The vets then came up with a clever idea to keep the bottom of the shell elevated off the ground so it could properly heal.
"They don't make turtle-sized wheelchairs," veterinary extern Garrett Fraess explained in a press release received by EcoWatch. "So, we drew some sketches of a customized wheelchair and I sent them to a friend who is a LEGO enthusiast."
A few weeks after surgery, the turtle received his very own multi-colored wheelchair, featuring a frame and wheels made with LEGO bricks. The device was attached to the turtle's upper shell with plumbers putty.
"He took off and has been doing great," Fraess said. "Turtles are really good at healing as long as the shell remains stable."
Ellen Bronson, senior director of animal health, conservation and research at the zoo, said that the turtle will likely use his LEGO wheelchair through the winter and into the spring until all of the fragments have fused together and the shell has completely healed.
"We are very happy that he is recovering well from his injuries and we plan to return him to the wild once he is fully healed," she added.
The turtle's plastron (the bottom part of his shell) is healing.The Maryland Zoo
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.