As some of you may know, I lived and worked in Northwest Florida for over 3 years. My former stomping grounds sustained massive damage from Hurricane Michael.
I feel so helpless as I see people I know and care about posting photos of the damage to their homes on Facebook. None have power and many lack water. I also feel grateful to no longer live there.
Schools are damaged or destroyed. Both hospitals in Panama City are closed to all but emergency cases and are evacuating patients to other areas. Law enforcement are not allowing people to re-enter the area.
Yesterday I watched videos posted by journalists riding around and I didn’t recognize where they were, though I’d bet you I’ve driven on every main road in Bay County at least once.
When I lived and worked in Panama City, where 22% of residents live in poverty, I saw things such as (and no, these were not rare occurrences):
- unpaved roads of red dirt and sand that were filled with deep ruts after a prolonged rain (there are many such roads in the Florida panhandle)
- homes that reeked of mold and where heavy rugs covered the soft spots in the floor
- people who lacked transportation and either depended on public transportation or paid neighbors or family members to take them places
- homeless people hanging out near my home while waiting for the nearby shelter to open late in the afternoon so they could grab a meal before heading for an encampment on the bayou
- people sleeping on the back stoop of an empty office building, and on several occasions I found them in my neighbor’s yard
The Florida Panhandle is a Republican stronghold where some people believe that all you need is God and (lots of) guns. A sizable number of residents distrust all forms of government. I can’t imagine how it’s going to go with them trying to maneuver the FEMA system to obtain help.
I worry about the opiate addicts who will no doubt suffer withdrawals because they are unable to obtain drugs. I worry about the grandparents who were already stretched thin caring for their grandchildren.
I’m also concerned for the mental health of every resident who has seen their community destroyed.
If you are able to donate to help in the recovery effort, please give to reputable nonprofits. You can donate to the Florida Disaster Relief Fund using the link or text “DISASTER” to 20222 to make a one-time $10 donation that will be added to your phone bill.
The Community Foundation of Middle TN has opened its’ Music City Cares campaign to raise funds for nonprofits providing help on the ground in the Panhandle area.
Also, you can donate to the American Red Cross using this link or text MICHAEL to 90999 for a one-time $10 donation.
And please keep them in your thoughts today and for many days to come.