Powerful storm causes closure of prisons, evacuation of 3,000 inmates

No inmates, prison staff hurt during Hurricane Michael or aftermath

By Brittany Muller - Reporter, Roxy Tyler - Web producer

MEXICO BEACH, Fla. - Florida authorities have evacuated nearly 3,000 inmates after two prisons were damaged during Hurricane Michael.

The Department of Corrections said Saturday that the inmates were evacuated from the Gulf Correctional Institution and Annex and a portion of Calhoun Correctional Institution.

The facilities sustained significant roof damage, as well as damage to infrastructure critical for security.

Three prisons -- the Gulf institution and annex, the Gulf Forestry Camp, and Panama City Work Release Center are closed until further damage assessments are made.

No inmates or staff members were injured. The agency said one the inmates' transfers are complete, they will update their locations on the agency website.

ONLINE: Latest locations of inmates in Florida

Lisa Howard, whose son is at Northwest Florida Annex, was one of many concerned family members who contacted News4Jax looking for answers.

"They wouldn’t tell us nothing. We didn’t know if they were alive or dead," Howard said.

She said the only thing she could do was watch the Weather Channel and call the facility to ask if it had been hit and if her son was OK.

Sometime between Thursday night and Friday morning, she heard from her son.

"Until you hear that person’s voice, you are going to worry," Howard said. "He said it was the scariest thing he’s ever been through in his entire life."

She said her son has told her he is on complete lockdown and doesn’t know the status of the facility. 

Search and rescue personnel are continuing to comb through the ruins of a small Florida Panhandle community destroyed by Hurricane Michael, which has left hundreds thousands without power and without easy access to supplies.

So far, one body has been found in Mexico Beach, but authorities say there is little doubt the death toll will rise. The tally of lives lost across the South stood at 17.

Crews with dogs went door-to-door Saturday in Mexico Beach, pushing aside debris to get inside badly damaged structures in a second wave of searches following what they described as an initial, "hasty" search of the area.

Authorities have set up distribution centers to dole out food and water to victims. They've also set up a triage tent to treat residents stepping on nails and cutting themselves on debris. 

Copyright 2018 by WJXT News4Jax. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.