MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
To Florida now. Ten days after Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle, friends and family are still trying to find out if their loved ones survived the devastating storm. NPR's Debbie Elliott has this report.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Volunteer rescuer George Ruiz spent Thursday trying to locate people who had not been heard from since Hurricane Michael hit last week.
GEORGE RUIZ: It's been a good day. I did about 32 calls so far.
ELLIOTT: Ruiz, retired from the Coast Guard, found each person alive and doing the best they could under trying circumstances, people like Roxy Melvin.
ROXY MELVIN: Usually, we're prepared for a week. Well, this is going to be more than a week, unfortunately.
ELLIOTT: Melvin's cousin in Alabama had contacted the website Crowdsource Rescue because she had not heard from her uncle and other family living in Alford, a tiny Florida Panhandle town about 60 miles inland.
MELVIN: The cell service totally let us down.
ELLIOTT: Melvin says her daughter in Pennsylvania was frantic for several days until they got in touch. She's staying with her elderly father. A tree fell through the roof of the house and there's water damage. They're OK, but, she says, the inability to contact authorities had tragic consequences on their street, where a man was killed by a tree that fell through his mobile home.
MELVIN: He was alive when that tree fell on him. Some people were able to go speak to him. But he died, and he stayed in that trailer under that tree for almost 24 hours because we didn't have the capability here to get him out.
ELLIOTT: They're no longer hemmed in by downed trees, but Verizon cell service is still spotty here and elsewhere in the hurricane-ravaged panhandle. Social media and web applications are trying to help people connect. Crowdsource Rescue says volunteers have checked on more than 2,500 people and still lists more than 300 people unaccounted for. Volunteers will be looking for them this weekend. Hundreds of calls are also coming in to local law enforcement. Mark Bowen, chief of emergency services for Bay County, says it's meant that officers are being dispatched to make sure that people are OK.
MARK BOWEN: Family and friends all over the United States, millions of people, could not contact their loved one and feared the worst. And so, a tremendous number of welfare checks were requested.
ELLIOTT: One of the people looking for help is Tracy Stinson of Fort Walton Beach. She hasn't heard from her father, who lives in Youngstown, north of Panama City.
TRACY STINSON: You can't help but wonder when so many people are missing.
ELLIOTT: She says she's tried all kinds of avenues to reach him, including the local grocery.
STINSON: Well, I actually tried calling a store that he shops at that's near his home or gone. So I was unable to reach them. So then, the next step was contact the sheriff's office. And I just kept calling every several hours to see if I could, you know, catch them with a phone line that was operating, and there was no luck.
ELLIOTT: Now, she's waiting to hear from the Health Department after filing a missing persons report. Up in Alford, before George Ruiz leaves the Melvin house, he unloads several cases of military meals ready to eat.
RUIZ: If we're going to go check on somebody, it's one thing just to go like, OK, you're OK and then leave. You know, you've got to leave something for them because they're stuck there for a reason.
ELLIOTT: Roxy Melvin says it's welcome relief after watching supply trucks drive past her rural community on their way to the more-populated coast.
MELVIN: It's a blessing, you know, that we aren't forgotten.
ELLIOTT: Melvin says the packaged food will come in handy. She's been told not to expect her power back until Halloween.
ELLIOTT: Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Alford, Fla.
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