Changed Forever: The Florida Panhandle in the Wake of Hurricane Michael

Tropical Weather
(Associated Press: Mexico Beach, Florida)

(Update: Friday, October 12, 2018)
As many of you know, I was born and raised in Panama City, Florida with many friends and family still there. However, the scene there now is more like a “war zone.” It’s much worst than most people realize. I’ve been in constant communication (counseling & prayer) with many in the Panhandle who have lost homes and businesses from Hurricane Michael. It’s beyond heartbreaking.

Imagine coming back from fleeing this monster hurricane only to discover the worst shock  of your life; finding your home and/or business totally destroyed like a bomb had exploded it into rubble?

In Panama City

The devastation inflicted by Hurricane Michael came into focus Thursday with rows upon rows of homes found smashed to pieces, and rescue crews struggling to enter stricken areas in hopes of accounting for hundreds of people who may have stayed behind.

Gov. Rick Scott said the Panhandle awoke to “unimaginable destruction.”

“So many lives have been changed forever. So many families have lost everything,” he said.

The full extent of Michael’s fury was only slowly becoming clear, with some of the hardest-hit areas difficult to reach with roads blocked by debris or water. An 80-mile (130-kilometer) stretch of Interstate 10, the main east-west route, was closed.

Video from a drone revealed some of the worst damage in Mexico Beach, where the hurricane crashed ashore Wednesday as a Category 4 monster with 155 mph (250 kph) winds and a storm surge of 9 feet (2.7 meters). Many meteorologists claim we had wind gusts close to 185 mph. Certainly, it was hurricane of catastrophic proportions never encountered in the history of Northwest Florida.

Entire blocks of homes near the beach were obliterated, leaving concrete slabs in the sand. Rows and rows of other homes were rendered piles of splintered lumber. Entire roofs were torn away in the town of about 1,000 people, now a scene of utter devastation.

State officials said 285 people in Mexico Beach had defied a mandatory evacuation order ahead of Michael. More than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast were ordered or urged to clear out as Michael closed in. But emergency authorities lamented that many ignored the warnings.

National Guard troops made their way into the ground-zero town and found 20 survivors Wednesday night, and more rescue crews arrived Thursday. But the fate of many residents was unknown.

Mishelle McPherson and her ex-husband searched for the elderly mother of a friend. The woman lived in a small cinderblock house about 150 yards (meters) from the Gulf and thought she would be OK. The home was found smashed, with no sign of the woman.

“Do you think her body would be here? Do you think it would have floated away?” McPherson asked.

Linda Marquardt, 67, rode out the storm with her husband at their home in Mexico Beach. When the house filled with storm surge water, they fled upstairs. “All of my furniture was floating,” she said. “”A river just started coming down the road. It was awful, and now there’s just nothing left.”

As thousands of National Guard troops, law enforcement officers and medical teams spread out, the governor pleaded with people in the devastated areas to stay away because of hazards such as fallen trees and power lines.

“I know you just want to go home. You want to check on things and begin the recovery process,” Scott said. But “we have to make sure things are safe.”

More than 900,000 homes and businesses in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas were without power.

The Coast Guard said it rescued at least 27 people before and after the hurricane’s landfall, mostly from coastal homes. Nine people had to be rescued by helicopter from a bathroom of a home in hard-hit Panama City after their roof collapsed, Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronald Hodges said.

In Panama City, many homes were still standing, but no property was left undamaged. Downed power lines and twisted street signs lay all around. Roofs had been peeled off. Aluminum siding was shredded and homes were split by fallen trees. Hundreds of cars had broken windows. Pine trees were stripped and snapped off about 20 feet (7 meters) high.

In neighboring Panama City Beach, Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford reported widespread looting of homes and businesses. He imposed a curfew and asked for 50 members of the National Guard for protection.

The hurricane also damaged hospitals and nursing homes in the Panama City area, and officials worked to evacuate hundreds of patients. The damage at Bay Medical Sacred Heart Hospital included blown-out windows and a cracked exterior wall though no patients were hurt.

The state mental hospital in Chattahoochee, which has a section for the criminally insane, was cut off by land, and food and supplies were being flown in, authorities said. All phone communication was cut off to the complex of nearly 1,000 residents and more than 300 staff, leaving emergency radios as their only link out.

A man outside Tallahassee, Florida, was killed by a falling tree, and an 11-year-old girl in Georgia died when the winds picked up a carport and dropped it on her home. One of the carport’s legs punctured the roof and hit her in the head. A driver in North Carolina was killed when a tree fell on his car.

Former Hurricane Michael was a post-tropical cyclone and had sped out over the open Atlantic early Friday, but there will be nothing quick about Florida’s recovery from the devastation it left behind. The storm has also brought heavy rains and flash flooding to hurricane-weary parts of North and South Carolina and Virginia.

High winds, downed trees and power lines, streets inundated by rising waters and multiple rescues of motorists from waterlogged cars played out in spots around Virginia and neighboring North Carolina.

One of Michael’s survivors said his city “looks like an atomic bomb” hit it. Some of the worst damage was in Mexico Beach, Florida, where the hurricane crashed ashore Wednesday as a Category 4 monster with 155 mph winds and a storm surge of 9 feet.

Michael was the one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to make landfall on the U.S. mainland. The storm has been blamed for at least six deaths. Florida officials said 285 people in Mexico Beach had defied a mandatory evacuation order ahead of the storm.

As of late Thursday night, some 1.5 million homes and businesses in the Southeast had no electricity.

One-time Category 4 Hurricane Michael was a post-tropical cyclone moving across the Atlantic early Friday, the National Hurricane Center said. But people in the Florida Panhandle were only beginning to deal with the destruction in its wake.

Michael is Not Done Yet

The National Hurricane Center said early Friday Michael was getting stronger as it was transitioning into a post-tropical storm. It still had damaging winds and was generating “life-threatening flash flooding … over portions of North Carolina and the southern mid-Atlantic” states, the center said.

Updated Power Outage Numbers

There are over 1.5 million without power in six states as of 10 p.m. Thursday, officials said.

A breakdown by state of the power outages. All numbers are approximate:

326,691 customers without power in Florida
37,966 customers without power in Alabama
133,333 customers without power in Georgia
92,000 customers without power in South Carolina
731,596 customers without power in North Carolina
271,487 customers without power in Virginia

Some Floridians return to find homes destroyed

Deirdre Hawthorne and her family rode out the storm with more than 200 other people in a shelter, CBS News correspondent Nikki Battiste reports. On her way home, she said she was filled with “dread.” She has called Bristol, Florida, home for the last 18 years.

CBS News was with her when she saw her house for the first time. Somehow it was still standing beneath a twisted knot of fallen trees. Her daughter Amanda had to find another way into the house.

Amanda said she was “devastated, scared, happy.”

A tree happened to fall the other way, narrowly missing their home. But not everyone was so lucky.

Concluding Thoughts

Fortunately, our family was spared by the mercy of God, but many were not. Please continue praying for all the relief efforts going on now by many Christian organizations and also road clearing and construction crews in this massive cleanup going on right now.

The worst hurricane on historical record has just left it’s scar on the beautiful NW Florida tourist Panhandle. It will be a long time before things will ever be “back to normal,” if ever.

See my updated post on Facebook today for (CBS) aerial coverage of Panama City and Mexico Beaches extensive damage from Hurricane Michael.

Thanks again friends for all your prayers,

David Crews

Author: David Crews Ph.D.

Academically, David holds an earned, (Ph.D) Doctorate in Philosophy from Trinity Theological Seminary and also a second, earned Doctorate in Theology (D.Th.) from Andersonville Theological Seminary. In addition, he graduated with academic honors (4.0) from Lincoln Christian University, Lincoln, Illinois, with a Masters of Arts, (M.A.) in Theological Studies. He also graduated with academic honors (4.0) with a second Master's degree, (M.A.) in Christian Studies from Luther Rice University, Lithonia, Georgia. David has recently pursued (Post-Doctoral) studies in Theology, Biblical Archaeology and Ancient History at both Oxford University and the London School of Theology in England. Visit our Facebook Home Page @ https://www.facebook.com/davidcrewsphd

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