By Cristi McKee
Being 8 months after Hurricane Michael, I expected Panama City Beach to be well on its way to restoration by now. On a recent trip to Panama City, it became obvious that this was not the case—not in the slightest.
Remnants of the hurricane were understandably present on i10; forests were decimated and debris could be found on the side of the road. This was disregarded as there was a long stretch of interstate to clean up and I knew it would take several months to completely clean up. Several houses here and there had tarps on their roofs and rubbish was scattered across yards, all due to the hurricane. As I closed Panama City Beach, the devastation grew, and it was shocking.
Having visited Panama City Beach in December for a charity project, I had what I thought was a realistic expectation of the state of the city, given that it was only a few months later. But, as I drove down streets in Calloway and Springfield, communities in the Panama City Beach area, it was as if Hurricane Michael had touched down just last week.
Sidewalks were filled with litter. Beside beaten-down houses were tents — tents that now served as homes. Windows of churches were completely blown out and boarded up, and groups of people on bikes and on foot were toting bags and food. Street signs were seldom seen across the cities, and many local businesses had makeshift signs and poster boards up. Several restaurants had blinking signs stating, “We’re open! We’re open!” despite their roofs being covered in tarps.
There were still trees and limbs laying across cars. There were still businesses without roofs. There were families living next to piles of what used to be their houses. Power lines and poles laid in bushes on the side of the road. A prescribed fire could be seen burning in the distance.
Only hints of Hurricane Michael are still evident in Tallahassee, so it is sensible to think that conditions have improved for our North Florida neighbors. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and Panama City Beach has a long road to recovery. I urge you to donate your time, money, and resources to our neighbors in Panama City Beach. Many charity organizations and churches are actively working there to clean up the city, feed the residents, and rebuild homes. Consider joining them and offering a helping hand.
Every now and then, as I drove, signs that read “850 Strong” and “Spread the Love” could be seen on the side of the road, and, despite the harsh conditions Panama City Beach residents were living under, American flags and crosses were found at nearly every other property. These residents had not given up hope, and they were working toward a better home for their families. They are truly 850 strong —even now.