It was three months ago that Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle as a strong Category 4 hurricane. It was the strongest storm to ever hit that part of the state.
Today, residents of that area are still struggling to recover and rebuild their lives.
“Yes. A lot of folks have left. Their homes were wiped out. They have no place to live,” said former Florida House Speaker Allan Bense who co-chairs a group called Rebuild 850 that was created after the storm to assist in with the recovery. The 850 refers to the area code for that part of the state.
“We currently have over 3,300 school children who are homeless. That number is usually around 300 to 350,” Bense added. “They’re living in their mom’s and dad’s cars.”
Businesses are still closed or shutdown adding to the financial nightmare Hurricane Michael brought to the area.
Bense says that’s the bad news.
“The good news is we’ll come back,” Bense insisted. “It’s going to take time and it’s going to take efforts like what we’re doing here with Rebuild 850 to get them back. We’ll get them back. We’re limping right now, but we’ll be back.”
Former Congresswoman and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham, who co-chairs Rebuild 850, saw many of the damaged or destroyed businesses during a recent visit to Bay County.
“I saw many shuttered businesses that said ‘we are close, but we will rebuild,” Graham said. “There’s a tenacity of spirit that is there. It’s hard to believe it has been three months and with the photos Speaker Bense showed me this morning, you wouldn’t know that.”
Many neighborhoods remain dark because of thousands of street lights still without power and debris still line road.
Bense, a Republican, and Graham, a Democrat, say they might be from different political parties, but they are in agreement when it comes to the recovery in the Panhandle. They say it’s crucial the state and Floridians need to continue to reach out with a helping hand both now and in the coming months.
“I’ve seen many regions struggle to get back to ‘normal’ after a major storm, but the devastated communities of Northwest Florida have never seen anything like this,” said former Florida Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon, who now works with Rebuild 850. “The only way these communities – our neighbors – will recove r is through the continued generous support of Floridians everywhere. That’s what makes REBUILD 850 so vitally important.”
Thursday’s call for continued support for the the people of northwest Florida to help them rebuild their lives and communities comes the day after Gov. Ron DeSantis paid a visit to the area to get a firsthand look at the damage and see the progress of recovery efforts.
Earlier in the week, DeSantis said it was important to him to visit the area soon after taking office to show the victims of Hurricane Michael that they haven’t been forgotten by the state.
“Those people in northwest Florida are working their tail off. They’ve done a great job,but they need help,” DeSantis said. “I don’t want them to be forgotten and so we’re going to make sure they see me there and let them know it’s something that means a lot to me.
He told reporters after viewing the destruction that while a lot of the recovery work has been performed, a lot still remains to be done.