Two years after Hurricane Michael, Panhandle communities urge state leaders not to lose focus

by | Oct 9, 2020

 

With Hurricane Delta just offshore in Louisiana after Hurricane Michael made landfall as one of the most powerful and devastating storms to ever hit the continental U.S., advocates for the Florida Panhandle want to remind people that the region’s recovery is far from over.

Continued attention and investment are sorely needed, even two years later. October 10th marks the second anniversary of Hurricane Michael’s landfall as the third most powerful Atlantic storm to make landfall in the United States. A Category 5 storm, Michael took 50 lives in Florida, destroyed much of Tyndall Air Force Base, leveled homes and rendered tens of thousands homeless, destroyed schools, shuttered hundreds of businesses, and wiped out hundreds of thousands of acres of agricultural and timber land.

“The storm itself was traumatic, but that trauma has been compounded by a painfully slow recovery,” said former House Speaker Allan Bense, Co-Chair of Rebuild 850, an organization dedicated to keeping the Panhandle’s recovery in focus and to help marshal support. “We’ve made progress, but there is still a long, long way to go.”

While the slow pace of recovery has been frustrating, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis offered reassurance late Friday that recovery for the region remains one of his top priorities.

“On my first day in office as Governor I committed to the people of Northwest Florida that helping them recover from Hurricane Michael would be a top priority,” said Governor DeSantis. “Today, that commitment remains as strong as ever. We will continue working as hard as we can to help all affected communities rebuild stronger than ever before.”

DeSantis issued a press release highlighting the state’s recovery milestones, and called attention to recovery programs that remain available for residents, including a home buyout program, and infrastructure repair funding, and workforce training programs to boost construction skills.

AshBritt Environmental CEO Brittany Perkins Castillo, whose company has conducted much of the debris removal in the region, said Hurricane Michael represents the largest and longest debris removal mission ever – still continuing after two years, compared to Katrina’s year-long cleanup.

“Hurricane Michael was as devastating a debris generating event as any we have seen. Michael produced significant land- and water-based debris removal challenges, with a lot of debris coming out of environmentally sensitive areas,” Castillo said.

AshBritt Environmental invested $750,000 to help rebuild the Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center trauma therapy treatment building in Panama City. The facility suffered extensive damage in Michael, and is on track to being restored and fully operational by the end of the year.

Former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said the emerging pattern of extreme weather conditions has caused the nation’s attention to shift from disaster to disaster, creating a significant risk that a region like the Florida Panhandle could be forgotten before it has fully recovered.

“Recovery from a devastating storm like Hurricane Michael is not a sprint — it’s a marathon,” Fugate said. “Even as we deal with new disasters like Hurricanes Sally and Delta, our leaders and our residents need to continue to provide the support that will allow the Panhandle to fully recover and avoid a death spiral. Without a continued focus, the economic fallout could last for generations.”

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