By Brian Niemietz
Hurricane Michael is being blamed for 26 deaths in the U.S. and that body count could continue to rise.
On Tuesday, Bay County, Fla., sheriff Tommy Ford confirmed the hurricane that made landfall six days ago was responsible for a dozen deaths in his jurisdiction. That adds to more than two-dozen confirmed death in the southern states where the killer storm touched down. According to Ford, it could have been a lot worse.
"It's nothing short of a miracle," he told the Washington Post. "We expected a large death toll."
That number could grow as officials continue to comb through areas that were most severely hit. Thousands of people remain unaccounted for, in part because power outages have left residents affected by the storm unable to communicate. CNN reports 140,000 Floridians alone are still in the dark.
Hurricane Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach, Fla., with winds reaching 155 miles on Oct. 10, just 2 miles an hour short of being a category 5 storm. Nearly 300 people had reportedly decided to ride out the hurricane, though official believe many of them had a change of heart and fled before Michael struck shortly before 1 p.m. that afternoon. The hurricane was eventually downgraded to a tropical storm before wreaking havoc in Georgia, Virginia and the Carolinas.
The natural disaster -- the third most powerful to hit the U.S. -- has been blamed for more than 40 deaths overall, including fatalities in Cuba and Central America.
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