Hurricane Michael flattened towns where survivors remain in disbelief

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

 

Hurricane Michael flattened towns where survivors remain in disbelief

“I looked over at my husband and I took his hand and I said we’re not going to make it,” Lynn Haven Mayor Margo Anderson recalled thinking amid the hurricane.
by Natalie Valdés /  / Updated 
The sunset in Mexico Beach, Florida,

Mexico Beach is ground zero with every home leveled.Natalie Valdes / NBC News

LYNN HAVEN, Fla. — For a grueling 55 minutes, Mayor Margo Anderson didn’t know if they were going to survive Hurricane Michael.

She rode out the storm in the police headquarters building here with about 40 other people, including police officers, their families and their pets.

The group went room to room, dodging falling debris until the eye came through. Then, silence.

“I looked over at my husband and I took his hand and I said we’re not going to make it,” said Anderson. “We are not going to make it.”

Fortunately, all 40 people sheltered inside survived. Once the storm passed, they crawled through blown out windows to get out of the demolished building. The first time she went back inside the building, it was almost too much to bear.

“I have normally a very low, calm voice and I can feel myself just talking about it and I’m short of breath,” she said.

What Anderson lived through in Lynn Haven echoes the destruction seen by those throughout the area. The death toll from Hurricane Michael rose to 19 Sunday as searchers continued to make their way through the devastated parts of the Florida Panhandle. Residents have been left in disbelief, unsure of what’s next.

Four miles south of Lynn Haven is Panama City, Florida. Along the main road through town, every business has either some damage or is completely destroyed.

A local auto shop owner in Panama City was so worried about looting that he spent the night in his destroyed building armed with a shotgun.

William Johnson helps pack up a friend's belongings as he returns to his damaged home from hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach
William Johnson helps pack up a friend’s belongings as he returns to his damaged home from hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida, on Oct. 14, 2018.David Goldman / AP

Meanwhile, Mexico Beach, just 24 miles away from Panama City, is considered ground zero for hurricane damage — every home there was leveled by the wind and rain. Search and rescue teams from Tennessee, Indiana and Florida are on the ground searching for 250 people who chose to stay behind and are currently unaccounted for.

“We continue to go through that list to assure that we account for everyone,” said Michael Pruitt, PIO for FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Incident Support Team.

Those without any insurance are in dire straits. Kelly Mitchell said her grandparent’s beach house is beyond repair. It was a place where generations of family members came together to enjoy the peacefulness of a small town coastal community of just about 1,000 people.

Kelly Mitchell drove back to Mexico Beach to find these pictures that her grandmother who would have been 100 years old had painted.
Kelly Mitchell drove back to Mexico Beach to find these pictures that her grandmother who would have been 100 years old had painted.Natalie Valdes / NBC News

“I know it’s just a big house but it has a lot of memories for us,” said Mitchell. “There’s a five foot of storm surge inside and it’s totally mud and sand and everything in the house is just destroyed. ”

Mitchell and her daughter Abby Golden made their way from Blountstown to Mexico Beach for one thing.

“We came down here mainly to get pictures that my grandmother who would have been 100 years old had painted in the house,” said Mitchell. “We wanted to salvage that and we were able to pick those up.”

In Lynn Haven, Anderson is working hard to check on her community, riding around otherwise impassible roads in a golf cart.

“We are all together. We have a hashtag. Lynn Haven Together And Strong. And that’s what we are,” said Anderson. “We have hope for the future and we’re going to get through it. People here are devastated. Our town has been catastrophically affected.”

Anderson organized the first distribution center in her city where residents can get a hot meal, water and ice. Volunteers have been working around the clock serving homemade casseroles, hot dogs, burgers, and even cupcakes. Everything has been donated from neighboring cities where people have power, can cook or can reach open grocery stores miles away.

“There’s a lot of good people here,” said Mara Harrison. “They just want to help.”

Harrison has lived in the Florida Panhandle all her life and she’s never seen devastation like this.

People line up for FEMA aid in Lynn Haven, Florida
People line up for FEMA aid in Lynn Haven, Florida, on Oct. 14, 2018.Natalie Valdes / NBC News

Across the street from the volunteer distribution center, her husband’s dentist office barely stands. But Harrison is more concerned about her neighbors who can’t leave their pummeled homes.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t have the means to leave and those are the people we need to help,” she said.

Anderson said 80 to 90 percent of the homes in Lynn Haven are destroyed. The Mexico Beach city manager said 95 percent of the homes in Mexico beach are uninhabitable.

Residents in Lynn Haven aren’t waiting for help. Although FEMA arrived Sunday to begin the process of providing transitional sheltering assistance to residents, volunteers continued to serve hot meals.

“Who’s going to help? People just don’t know they need to,” Harrison said as she prepared hot dogs and hamburgers for a long line of hungry neighbors. “They have no idea it’s like this.”

No Food, No FEMA: Hurricane Michael’s Survivors Are Furious

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE DAILY BEAST)

 

JUST LIKE PUERTO RICO

No Food, No FEMA: Hurricane Michael’s Survivors Are Furious

Miles and miles of Florida are obliterated, and residents have been left to fend for themselves with little help from the government.

Joe Raedle/Getty

PANAMA CITY, Florida—Hurricane Michael’s sudden transformation into an unprecedented storm haunts everyone on the Florida Panhandle who lived through it. “It was raw power,” says Panama City resident Walter McAlster, “you felt you were in it, not outside and didn’t know if you would live through it. You knew that everything was going to change the landscape forever.”

And it did, in the space of three hours.

The destruction is everywhere, at every corner, as far as the eye can see. Mexico Beach, where the hurricane’s eye wall slammed into Florida with 140 mph winds, is flattened. Panama City, gem of the Emerald Coast, looks like a bomb has been dropped on it. It is now a desolate landscape of toppled power poles, transformers, electrical lines, severed trees, and metal roofing, twisted and tangled into a sea of debris. Nearly all homes, businesses, stores, banks, schools are severely damaged or destroyed, skeletal remains with blown out windows or crushed facades. To residents, it is unrecognizable.

A roof over a boat storage building that collapsed following Hurricane Michael on Oct. 11, 2018, in Panama City Beach, Florida.

Chris O’Meara-Pool/Getty

There is so much rubble that the official death toll of 14 is expected to rise as search-and-rescue teams inspect thousands of buildings, looking for the missing. A team from the Miami Fire Department found a body in a Mexico Beach home on Friday. About 1,700 workers have checked 27,000 homes, Gov. Rick Scott said after meeting with emergency responders on Saturday evening.

The debris has rendered most roads and streets virtually impassible for evacuees and first responders. Electric poles bent at 90 degrees and power lines strewn like spaghetti cover most lanes. Nearly all transformers were destroyed. Vehicles dodge ruined trees, split like toothpicks or uprooted by the power of the storm.

View of the damaged caused by Hurricane Michael when it hit Mexico Beach, Florida, on Oct. 10, 2018.

HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty

Driving across the Apalachicola National Forest reserve that borders the coast was like touring a cemetery: endless rows of decapitated trees, leaning perfectly aligned like fallen prisoners who had been executed. Electrical poles 30 feet high have been split in half, their power lines strewn across the macadam. It went on like this for 60 miles.

Since the storm, there’s been no electricity and no water in Panama City. Emergency disaster relief was yet to be seen in strength as of Saturday morning and residents were growing more frustrated and desperate.

Chantelle Goolspy sat in her car making phone calls to get help. Goolspy and many of her neighbors live in a public housing area in downtown Panama City that was badly devastated.

“We’re in need of food, water, anything, we’re not getting any help. The whole street needs help,” Goolspy told the Red Cross. “FEMA referred me to you. That person told me to call 211.”

Chantelle Goolspy and her son, Antoine.

Ingrid Arnesen/The Daily Beast

Down the street, Barbara Sanders stood outside her daughter’s unit, where she had come to stay during the hurricane.

“We’re not getting any help,” she said. “We need food. It’s just crazy.”

Sanders said that not a single relief agency had come by to check on them. Only the police had come and it was to tell everyone to leave. “They told us there’s nothing they can do and it’s gonna take a long time to rebuild,” Sanders said.

Just then a pick-up truck arrived with water. It was the first help this neighborhood had received and it turned out to be two brothers—Chris and Brendon Hill, from Louisiana—who had decided to come and help.

Homes destroyed by Hurricane Michael are shown in this aerial photo on Oct. 11, 2018, in Mexico Beach, Florida.

Chris O’Meara-Pool/Getty

In neighboring Panama City Beach, city manager Mario Gisbert wasn’t going to wait for federal emergency assistance. Volunteers from Florida and other states brought water, set up a food kitchen for police, and prepared 1,500 meals for locals. A local church is preparing to distribute meals at 15 stations in Panama City.

“The American people are helping us,” Gisbert said. “FEMA will eventually come into the game and get the accolades in six months.”

Federal, state, and local officials were hunkered down at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) set up at Gulf Coast State College in Lynn Haven, trying to get urgently needed food and water to residents. The EOC turned down The Daily Beast’s request to speak with the EOC chief, Mark Bowen, and city officials. Spokesperson Catie Feenie said the focus was on “coordinating some patrols who are in life-saving mode” for the 60,000 residents who had not evacuated before the hurricane, like Goolspy and Sanders.

“We’re telling everybody to save [food and water] because it will be days before we’re ready to do that,” Feenie said.

At a press conference in Panama City on Saturday evening, Gov. Scott stressed the same point.

“Everybody just needs to help each other right now,” he said.

Meanwhile, some 17,000 utility workers are busy restoring power to 245,000 Florida homes and businesses without electricity.

Boats in dock were reduced to rubble when Hurricane Michael passed through Panama City, Florida, on Oct. 10, 2018.

Joe Raedle/Getty

Officials said schools have been closed indefinitely, but word hadn’t gotten out. Goolspy’s 13-year son, Antoine, was hopeful he could return soon. “I don’t want to repeat my seventh grade because without education you can’t get ahead,” he said, adding he couldn’t wait to take a shower, too.

Word about not getting water or meals had not yet reached rural communities inundated by the hurricane’s rains and storm surge. In Gadsden County, outside Tallahassee, where the storm killed four people, county commissioner Anthony Viegbesie said he had not seen a single relief agency.

“This is a community that lives on agriculture. Without electricity, the wells don’t work,” he said. “We survive primitively.”