PANAMA CITY, Fla. - Nearly a quarter of the population in Panama City lives below the poverty line. Jamie Hilliard has a sign on what is left of her home. It's a warning: "Shoot Looters."
Deputies in Bay County have been arresting about 10 suspected looters every night since Hurricane Michael left the area in the dark a week ago. Emergency management officials say some 124,500 customers are still without power.
Victoria Smith said she was so tired she didn't hear burglars break into her townhome. They still don't have power, so she and her four children were sleeping with the front door open. She was clutching her purse to her chest, and they took it.
The looters are also targeting businesses and they are almost always armed, according to Bay County Sheriff’s Maj. Jimmy Stanford.
"Most of our officers lost their homes, have been working 16- to 18-hour shifts with no sleep, no shower, and now they’re encountering armed individuals," Standord said. "It’s a stressful time for everyone in Bay County."
Miami Beach Police Department Deputy Chief Richard Clements was working with a team of police officers, who are sleeping in tents, and other Florida police departments to help Bay County deputies.
Many Panama City residents are out of work and can't afford to go out and buys supplies. Members of St. Andrew United Methodist Church have been collecting and distributing food, water and ice. Although their building was destroyed, their community remains strong.
"It's a good opportunity for us to remember that church is not a building," Pastor John Blount said.
Florida officials say the storm is responsible for at least 16 deaths in the state. State officials reported 1,157 people were still in shelters Wednesday, but those who were returning were finding some of their most precious belongings were gone.
In Mexico Beach, where the Category 4 caused the most damage, residents are returning to find their homes destroyed.
Nancy Register sobbed uncontrollably on Wednesday after finding no trace of the large camper where she’d lived with her husband Taylor. She was particularly distraught over the loss of a black-and-white photo of her mother, who died of cancer.
Husband Taylor Register found little but a stool and a keepsake rock that was given to him by a friend 40 years ago.
"That’s my belongings," he said, pointing to a small pile beside his red pickup truck. Choking up, he said: "I appreciate God humbling me. Everybody needs it."
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