While victims of last October’s Hurricane Michael continue to rebuild their communities and their lives a new poll seems to confirm what those victims have felt for the past eight months: that the outside world has tended to forget about the extensive damage that remains and the difficult job of rebuilding that still lies ahead.
A survey of 1,000 Floridians conducted by Sachs Media Group for the National Hurricane Survival Initiative and Rebuild 850 shows that more two in five respondents mistakenly believe all is well in the Panhandle since the Category 5 storm tore through the area last fall. Nearly three in four, said they would do nothing to help the thousands of people whose lives have been turned upside down by Hurricane Michael.
The poll was designed to gauge statewide awareness of the storm and its continued effects as the rest of Florida is focused on a new hurricane season.
“These Panhandle residents need the support of our entire state,” Allan Bense, co-chair of Rebuild 850 and former Speaker of the Florida House, said. “These communities are suffering. We’re all Floridians, and we need to come together. We are urging all Floridians to lend a hand to our most vulnerable citizens.”
While Panhandle residents are still struggling with homelessness, unemployment, and mental health issues, the survey shows people across the state aren’t aware of the problems survivors of Michael are still coping with.
Nearly half of all Floridians are unaware there is still extensive damage in the Panhandle. More than one in four Floridians think homelessness and unemployment are no longer issues following the storm, and more than three in four believe that mental health, food insecurity, and the threat of wildfires are no longer concerns.
“Many Panhandle residents feel like they’ve been forgotten by their state,” Gwen Graham, Rebuild 850 co-chair and Former U.S. Representative, said. “These survey results are incredibly frustrating. Families are camped out in tents and children are struggling with anxiety, and Floridians in other areas of the state are unaware.”
News of the survey comes as reports have circulated among local media of a pending mental health crisis facing area residents due to the frustration and desperation of residents there. In addition to having their lives in shambles, the area faces a severe wildfire threat this summer due to 72 million tons of forest debris that are left over after the storm that remains on the ground.
Residents in South Florida knew the least about the situation in the Panhandle. Nearly half of South Floridians were unaware which hurricane hit Florida’s Panhandle, and less than half knew the severity of the storm.
“While we’re thankful for the federal and state funding the Panhandle relief and coverage effort has received, we need to come together as Floridians to do even more,” Will Weatherford, Rebuild 850 co-chair and House Speaker in 2012-2014 said. “This was the second most powerful storm to ever hit the mainland United States, and it will continue to take more time and money to recover and rebuild.”
It is a sad state of affairs. FEMA denied so many in the panhandle who had damage to their homes and had no insurance but lived on a low fixed income. Millions were spent on debris removal and companies got rich. Drive around and still see homes with blue tarps and no way to know how long these will last. Further damage to the home is a certainty. I am greatly disappointed in the help so many were denied.