I feel there is nothing I can write other than to share what we have experienced this week with Hurricane Michael. Hurricanes are a community experience, endured together with your neighbors bearing the same risks and dangers as you. Panama City Beach, Panama City, Mexico Beach, and Port St Joe are our neighbors and many of us feel as if it were our own homes that were destroyed because we know darn well how close it came.
I spent Friday in Panama City with a friend who was looking for a few people who have been out of contact. Cell services are completely down, no texts, no calls, no internet. We have talked about this scenario in the material we publish for disaster preparedness- having a designated method and time to make contact after an event such as this. But with something as devastating as this, protocols can be forgotten while immediate needs are met.
There are no street signs, no road signs, no traffic signals, no familiar landmarks, nobody is directing traffic, seemingly nobody to enforce the law, and if we weren't with someone who intimately knew the neighborhood I would have been completely lost. We found the house we were looking for after having to turn back several times because of blocked roads from trees, debris, and downed power lines which are absolutely everywherenearby . His home was made of concrete block walls and a metal roof but a tree was resting on one side and the roof peeled back like a tin can. We worked for hours cutting the tree into chunks and trying to keep it from causing further damage. We helped patch the roof, left some cases of water and went on to the next house.
Every home within sight of this one was damaged and very few trees were left standing. People were working on their own properties but many stood outside unsure where to begin such a massive undertaking. Debris was everywhere and there were nearbu houses with much more damage than this one. Our hearts broke for them and with several people left to check on before curfew there was nothing we could do for them. This area is in western Panama City and we were headed east, closer to the major damage.
The next stop was an apartment building near Hwy 77. Inside the unit we were looking was a tree branch stuck through the roof, right into the bedroom. The residents were surely going to be asked to leave because none of the buildings were safe, so they had nothing to do but wait for help to arrive. They had no way to contact relatives or loved ones to ask for a ride and many of their cars were stuck under trees.
We passed the area where the National Guard had set up a supply pick-up and cars were lining the block with pedestrians everywhere. Word of mouth spread the location and the possibility of fuel brought many cars desperate for a lifeline. The closest working gas station is probably 20 miles away for those lucky enough to get that far. Most people have enough food to last a few days but water runs out quickly and fuel becomes scarce or unavailable if the pumps have no power
Our next stop was in Lynn Haven, an area that had a few inches of flash flooding. On the way there we passed a box truck on its side in the middle of the road, blown over by the wind. I saw a street sign bent around its post like a taco before falling to the ground. Again we were diverted by trees blocking the road but found our way around. This warehouse had its doors blown in, leaving huge gaps in the walls and no way to secure the building or its contents.
The last person we were looking for lives off Hwy 231 on the northeast side of town. An hour with a chainsaw freed their car and cleared the front of the house to make accessing it easier but there were trees down all around the house. This more remote area will probably not have power restored for months
Based on what I saw it will take weeks and probably months for even the basic infrastructure to be usable. Running water is a luxury few have, power is only temporarily granted by generators, toilets are stopped up, and supplies few and far between. The people will need our help for a long time and I urge anyone capable of contributing time or supplies to find a way to help. We will be sending information to our customers on where donation centers will be and possible work opportunities.
The time to prepare for a storm like this starts well in advance. Insurance companies often close days before the storm and will not accept new policies so please don’t wait until it's too late to get the coverage you need. If you would like more material about how to prepare your business or home for a disaster, please contact our office for free information.
And many thanks to all of the amazing people that have already poured into the area to help, including the National Guard, utility workers, and first responders!
Please also note this service being offered by Teladoc:
We know many of you and your members are dealing with the impact of Hurricane Michael. To aid during this difficult time, Teladoc is offering access to general medical care at no charge for residents of the evacuation zones impacted by Hurricane Michael.
To receive care, affected individuals should call the designated hotline below or visit teladoc.com/Michael for more information.
This service extends beyond current Teladoc eligibility, and is available to any individual impacted during this time.