Extreme weather

Couple stranded by Hurricane Michael spells ‘HELP’ on lawn, is then rescued after niece spots it on map

Amber Gee was searching the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration interactive map and found HELP spelt out in logs on the lawn

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2018, 12:55pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2018, 11:19pm

A Florida couple who used tumbled trees to spell out HELP after being trapped by Hurricane Michael were rescued after their niece saw their plea on an aerial map.

The upbeat tale comes as search crews sombrely picked through the debris of entire neighbourhoods blown apart by the fury of the storm.

The confirmed death toll remained at 17 on Monday, but authorities said they expected the number to go higher.

Bay County Emergency Services said they were contacted by the niece, Amber Gee, and dispatched help.

“This is an incredible story of how people are working together,” the agency posted on its Facebook page.

Gee fled her home near Panama City with her two children on Thursday but was concerned about her aunt and uncle.

She was searching the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration interactive map on

Saturday and found HELP spelt out in logs on the lawn in Youngstown, northeast of Panama City.

Her uncle, Ernest Gee, had used trees knocked down by Michael to call for help, she told ABC News on Sunday.

“I had been seeing this link to (aerial) images all over Facebook and I decided to check it out,” Gee said.

“We lucked out and I was able to get some of my family some help and get them out of the property.”

A rescue team cut through downed trees to reached the house about 2am local time Sunday, rescuing the couple and a family friend.

Those rescuers are among hundreds of emergency management officials and first responders in the Florida Panhandle still grinding away Monday, five days after the storm hit, working around the clock to coordinate resources, volunteers, supplies and rescues in their communities.

“We cannot thank them enough for their hard work and dedication,” Governor Rick Scott said.

Much work remains. More than 150,000 Florida homes and businesses remained without power Monday. Another 120,000 are dark in Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

Scott said thousands of utility workers were on the scene, working to bring power back to storm-battered communities.

US President Donald Trump on Monday toured areas of Florida devastated by Hurricane Michael, and met some of the thousands of people still struggling to survive without running water or electricity.

“It is incredible, the power of the storm,” Trump said.

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“Somebody said it was like a very wide, extremely wide tornado. That’s really what this was. This was beyond any winds that they’ve seen.”

Amber Gee and her family experienced property damage, but their hurricane tale includes a happy ending. She credited her uncle for “thinking outside the box” with his novel cry for help.

“The hurricane has turned everything upside down everywhere,” she told ABC.

“Some were more fortunate than others. I’m just happy that everybody is safe and sound and, hopefully, soon we will all get through this together and recover from this storm.”

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse