Photo Credit: Jami Daniels Joe https://www.facebook.com/JamiJoePhotography/
Hurricane Michael devastated the Florida Panhandle on October 10th, 2018.
The amount of Media coverage and National attention for these areas has been non-existent.
Calhoun County was one of the hardest hit inland areas. A small town with very little to talk about. It seems as if we were left behind, forgotten.
I wrote the piece below to raise awareness for these areas.
It was official. A named storm. Hurricane Season may have been dwindling out, but this storm was determined to make it to the Gulf of Mexico and set it’s sights on the Panhandle.
Several days before projected landfall, my family made arrangements to evacuate for Hurricane Michael. Event though meteorologist were still calling for it to be a small storm, it’s a tradition for me and my people to tuck tail and run.
The rest of the Panhandle began to gather supply and stockpile can goods and water like a bunch of squirrels. It’s a tradition around these part, nothing out of the ordinary.
Hurricane Michael was coming, and there no way to stop it. The only thing left to do was prepare or run.
We packed up our car and headed out.
From the security of Mississippi, my husband and I watched the storm play out like a bad movie. Flipping from weather channel to weather channel, I desperately searched for information on my hometown. Every station had the same grim story. It was going to be bad. There was nothing left for my neighbors to do except get in a hiding spot and pray for their life. I had never felt so far away from home.
As Michael blew inland, the eye of the storm headed directly for my town. Phone calls and text messages from family who stayed behind, confirmed our fears. There would be widespread destruction and death. We would return home to a place we wouldn’t recognize. Blountstown, Kinard, Altha, Clarksville, all small towns within our beloved Calhoun County, would all be changed forever.
Not an easy concept to wrap your head around when you’re a local and this place is all you’ve ever known.
The morning after.
October 11th, we left Mississippi before Sunrise ignoring warnings that roads were blocked and we would not be able to get in. There was no way we were spending another second away from our people, people who needed help.
Our normal 4 hour trip took 7 hours and I will never forget the destruction we drove through. The closer we got to home the less I recognized. Eerie doesn’t begin to describe it.
Roads were partially blocked and we had to drive in ditches and maneuver across yards, half the trip. We were oblivious to the danger of the downed trees and power lines that littered the roads.
At a time like that, your mind just doesn’t react the same.
We arrived to our own home to find minor damage. And when I tell you I cried, that’s an understatement. I would actually call it squalled. If you are from the south you know, when somebody squalls, it’s serious.
To see your own house standing safe after driving through hours of destruction, it will shake you…
Little did I know that was the first good cry of many I would have over the next few weeks.
Because the next few weeks was spent telling stories, listening to nightmares, and sharing compassion I didn’t even know I had.
I don’t even have to ask if others held hands and cried with strangers, aquanteince, and friends. I know they did. I seen it. And I cried some more.
My town alone was without power for 11 days. And that was for the lucky ones. Much more common, people spent 3-4 weeks without electricity. That’s 30 days with no warm showers, no T.V., no lights. You couldn’t cook unless you had gas. There was no refrigerator to keep things cool.
It was a weird time. A hard time.
Ice chests, gas cans, generators and chainsaws were all the new norm.
Cleanup crews, Linemen, and FEMA Reps were on every street.
Nobody slept, nobody went to school, very few people worked.
Makeup and clean clothes were a thing of the past.
Cell phones were almost as useless as a gallon of ice cream.
Food lines were not just for the poor.
People lived off donations and the help of their neighbor.
We were surviving, and looking back, we kicked ass at it.
And now, today, four months since Hurricane Michael, and the recovery process is still in full swing. Blue tarps on roofs are still the cool thing in the neighborhood, and piles of debris still litter our streets.
Entire communities are still rebuilding and trying to figure out this new way of life.
Children have been crammed into the schools that are still standing, and local agencies are still trying to find new buildings to call home.
Our local commerce has taken a hit that it may never recover from.
But you know what? It’s A.O.K.
Because we found camaraderie, we made friends, we pulled together.
We held strong when it mattered most.
The trees may be bent and broken, but the spirits of the survivors are not.
We are recovering, and we are kicking ass at that too.
Or you can donate directly to the Main Street Organization by clicking the link.
All proceeds will be spent on community projects and will be deeply appreciated. ❤