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Survivors of Hurricane Michael in Florida Panhandle fear that they have been forgotten




Hurricane Michael destroyed Florida Panhandle and killed 49 people. Many residents still live in temporary housing.

The towering debris that has fed Highway 98 has gone now, six months after the 16-meter storm current from Hurricane Michael pulverized this city. But there are less berms of waste: concrete blocks, ropes, pipes and planks, raised as artificial dunes on the side of the road.

The landscape is still scraped to harsh sand and dirt, enthralled by trees and plants. The few long-term residents still talk about losing their way because they have no landmarks. The occasional tourist walks by, astonished by the lingering destruction of the storm that made landing on October 10 with wind speeds of up to 155 mph.

"You want to believe it's okay now," said Priscilla Moore, 51, Powder Springs, Ga., Who has been here for 47 years. "But oh my goodness, it's gone, it's just gone."

The stretch of Florida Panhandle east of Panama City is known as the Forgotten Coast because it is so rural and undeveloped – a remnant of a wild, Disney, air-conditioned Florida. The moniker has become more searing in the aftermath of the fourth strongest hurricane, measured by wind speed, ever to hit the mainland in the United States.

Government agencies have cleared roads and utilities have restored power, water and communication, but thousands of people are still desperate for permanent housing and are not only competing with each other for the lack of delivery of rental units, but with construction workers entering the area. .

Many residents live in damaged homes or trailers that are unsuitable for human habitation. Some live in tents. Homeowners are frustrated by stingy insurance companies and confusing government paperwork, and they are cautious of shady contractors.


Hurricane Michael was the worst storm on record for the Florida Panhandle. Its destruction is still visible. (Charlotte Kesl / For Washington Post)

In the inner Marianna (population 6000), the federal prison with 500-person payroll is all closed, but its inmates and staff moved to other federal facilities. The state's institution for the developmentally delayed, which earns 250 customers, just gets its debris up, says city director Jim Dean.

Residents here are wondering if their with Americans understand their ongoing struggle. Charitable donations flowing into the area have been modest. The American Red Cross calculated that designated donations to Hurricane Michael sacrificed $ 35 million at the end of March. Hurricane Florence, who hit Carolinas a month earlier, accounted for $ 64.3 million. Hurricane Irma, who landed near Naples, Fla., One year earlier, gave $ 97 million to give, and Hurricane Harvey, who destroyed South Texas in 2017, attracted $ 522.7 million.

Michael caused 49 deaths and more than $ 5.5 billion in damage. Occupational herds have removed 31 million cubic meters of debris in Florida after Hurricane Michael compared to $ 3 million for Hurricane Irma, a much wider storm that hit the entire Peninsula in 2017, according to T.J. Dargan, Deputy Federal Coordinator for Federal Emergency Management Agency's Hurricane Michael Response and Recovery Initiative.

Because Michael happened so quickly – Panhandle struck just 73 hours after it became a named tropical storm – and hit relatively few people in a rural corner of Deep South, the storm was overshadowed by other disasters. It was pressed between the floods consumed by North Carolina after Hurricane Florence in September and the wildernesses that destroyed northern California in November.

"To some extent, it never penetrated the American psyche," Dargan said.

FEMA said it has poured $ 1.1 billion into Florida in Michael-related recovery efforts, most of it in the form of low-interest Small Business Administration loans. It has approved $ 141 million in individual aid for 31,000 households affected by Michael, figures similar to disaster relief for North Carolina after Florence.

But Congress failed to pass a major disaster relief, long-term recovery from Michael and other disasters across the country. The 35-day government interruption initially delayed actions, and then President Trump, along with his Republican allies, collaborated with Democrats to fund orchestral alignment in Puerto Rico.

Partisanship in Washington doesn't sit well here at Panhandle.

"We have so many Democrats suffering as Republicans and we need help. We're all in the same boat," said Philip Griffitts, president of the Bay County Commission and a Republican.

Al Cathey, Mayor of Mexico Beach, said it is "beyond my understanding" how the federal government has not passed a disaster bill. Sitting on a pile of drywall outside his hardware store, Cathey examined the ravaged landscape.

"This total bill is threatened because of hassle," he said.

Down a road in Bay County, Sam Summers, a heavy-equipment operator, and his wife, Sherry Skinner-Summers, working with the sheriff's department, opened their five-acre mass to people whose homes and trailers were destroyed in the storm.

The backyard population is down to six tents from 10, occupied by families and people who cannot find or afford hotel rooms or apartments and pass a background check. Summers and their donors deliver the tents.

A family of four, including a 6 month old infant, lives with the summers in their bricks. Several families are expected to arrive in the coming days, saying summed up based on requests that his wife has made on social media.

FEMA said the agency's representatives as well as state and county officials visited Summer's estate in mid-March and were cut off by the campers.

"On this and previous visits, all but a few of the people refused to talk to anyone," said a FEMA spokesman in an email.

There is still a suspicion among those in the region that federal, state, and local governments are not doing everything they need to help recovery.

FEMA has paid for 283 families to live in temporary housing for six months, a period ending Tuesday. County and State applied for a 90-day extension; This week, FEMA gave 60 days and only 17 families qualified.

"What it means is coming Tuesday, about 800 individuals will lose their home with nowhere to go," said Griffitts.

The military expects Congress to pass the disaster financing bill to help rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base, which hit a direct hit from the hurricane.

"Within the fence line, the morale is quite high," chief chief Col. Brian laidlaw said "But I also acknowledge that you should keep the flames. If we can get help from the federal government in the form of an allowance, it will just keep the momentum going."

The next big challenge is fire fires that runs until July. The storm destroyed 72 million tons of wood, according to Jim Karels, director of the Florida Forest Service. No more than 15 percent have been drawn to sawmills and paper mills. The rest is still on the ground – a catastrophe is waiting to happen.

"All that guy is drying up now. Needles are all brown. Very flammable," said Charles. "I'm worried that we could go from one catastrophic event to another."

The abandoned trees also represent an enormous amount of lost financial security for people who rely on timber as an investment. Some 16,000 landowners were hit by the storm, and most did not have insurance to cover orchard damage, officials said.

"If this hurricane had gone through Central Florida, South Florida, the dollars would have been there now," said State Agricultural Commissioner Nicole "Nikki" Fried (D). "People out there are fighting every day – people whose entire life savings, the entire university fund, are basically on the ground."

Many of the hurricanes' lingering effects are intangible – stress, anxiety, depression. Normal rainstorms trigger large size panic. People are visibly exhausted, widespread.

Abuse among school students has spiked, said Sharon Michalik, public information officer for Bay County Schools, where 4,800 students aged 1 to 6 are classified as resident in temporary homes, which federal officials consider homeless. She said very morning that she had received a note from a teacher who has been forced to move seven times since the hurricane and is losing her seventh rent.

In Panama City, Sabrina Fleming is back in business with Peggy Sue Barber Shop, which had been reduced to a mountain of blossom and wood paneling by Michael's wind. But Fleming still suffers from a bad case of disaster exhaustion. A wild fire outbreak near her home last weekend and raged for three days, burned by the disused pine trees.

"I'm 42, but I feel 82," she said. "Life is just harder now. Everything takes time. It's so drainage and I just want to run away."

A young mother out of three, Stephanie Michelle Powiliatis from Panama City, sent a plea to a local Facebook group: "There are so many levels to this destruction that no one could have predicted, and I feel totally out of control lately. I am constantly scared, more anxious than I was before October 10, depressed and worried "Tell me I'm not alone here."

More than 200 neighbors replied. They assured her: You are not alone.

Achenbach reported from Washington.


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