JILL NELSON, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 23rd of October, 2018. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Jill Nelson.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. First up today: a look at hurricane recovery in the Florida panhandle.
Hurricane Michael dealt a devastating blow to parts of Florida, Georgia, and nearby states when it made landfall two weeks ago. The death toll’s now at 39, but will likely rise as search and rescue teams comb through debris.
The monster storm brought strong winds and floodwaters that destroyed homes and businesses. For many people, the routines of life have become a struggle: Gas, food, and power are in short supply.
But relief groups are beginning to partner with local churches to jumpstart the recovery process. WORLD correspondent Ryan McKinnon spent Monday in Mexico Beach, one of the region’s hardest hit communities. He joins us now to talk about what he saw.
Ryan, describe the scene there for us.
RYAN MCKINNON, REPORTER: Yeah, the devastation’s really extensive. There’s a lot of streets where two out of every three houses has major, major damage and even houses that didn’t take a direct hit and had a tree on top of them, a lot of those houses are having mold issues now because it’s been 12 days and 80,000 people still don’t have power. So, the scene is just complete devastation in a lot of areas surrounding Panama City.
REICHARD: Well, Ryan, has anything about this hurricane aftermath surprised you?
MCKINNON: One of the surprising things has been the potential economic impact on Tindle Air Force base here in Panama City. That base is home to 55 F-22 stealth fighter planes and officials believe up to 22 of those were left on the base. Due to maintenance issues those 22 planes weren’t able to be moved before the storm hit. The Air Force isn’t saying how many of those planes are impacted. I spoke with a spokesman today and he talked about how we don’t want our adversaries to know any sort of damage that took place to such an important group of planes, but the big question is how many billions of dollars of damage was it. The base is a major economic driver in the region and people want to if the base going to be rebuilt. What happened to those planes, how much damage there was could impact that outcome.
REICHARD: Well, these are times when churches have an incredible opportunity, really, to minister in the midst of suffering. You recently met with Pastor Danny Davis who lives in the area and he issued this challenge to the church. Let’s listen:
DAVIS: If this church closed today, who would miss it? It’s our time to be a missed person. In other words, we have to, we have to have a presence so big that if we was to shut down, this community could not do what they need to do. They could not get what they need to get… Just being something that nobody else could be. That’s what the church needs to be. So we’re excited about that.
REICHARD: That’s a powerful reminder for all of us. Ryan, what church involvement and recovery efforts have you seen out there?
MCKINNON: On Sunday I was driving around a lot and churches were open even if their building had been destroyed. They were feeding people, they were having meetings in parking lots, and a number of pastors that I spoke with just from a bunch of denominations talked about how the storm is an opportunity to connect with people that they otherwise wouldn’t have. So the churches that I spoke with are excited about the opportunity and their trajectory has changed dramatically from just what it was two weeks ago.
REICHARD: Well, Ryan, it seems that natural disasters have hit the U.S. a lot lately. What should churches or people who want to help out know?
MCKINNON: I think one of the things that people should know with social media, images spread so quickly and people see those images and they wanted to help. But I think what people need to know is that sometimes it’s best to be patient and listen to people on the ground when it comes to helping. One of the things we saw here was people just started showing up with trailers full of supplies what the officials here have requested is that people who want to help partner with disaster relief agencies like Red Cross, Salvation Army, United Way, those groups, because they know the needs of the people on the ground. Don’t just try to do it on your own.
REICHARD: Good reminder. There’s a close Senate race in Florida. I’m wondering how the hurricane and all this aftermath is affecting Florida’s campaign season?
MCKINNON: So, it’s a really tight race. It’s Governor Rick Scott, the Republican, running against longtime incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson for his senate seat. Scott won both of his governor races by very slim margins and he really needs this area to vote, where the storm hit. It’s a heavily Republican area, there’s about 200,000 voters in the eight or nine county region that was impacted by the storm and so Rick Scott officially—I kinda put that in quotes—suspended campaigning after the storm, but he has been just everywhere during relief efforts. He’s been on TV constantly, he wears his trademark navy blue baseball cap, and his supporters see that and say that he’s out there, he’s on the front lines. His detractors see it and say he’s taking advantage of a tragedy for political purposes. But it has somewhat sidelined his opponent Senator Bill Nelson just because senators really play a different role in disaster relief recovery. Everything comes from the governor’s office, so Rick Scott’s going to be the one who’s on TV whereas Bill Nelson has not been as ubiquitous.
REICHARD: Ryan McKinnon is a WORLD Radio correspondent based in Florida. Ryan, thanks for your eyewitness report.
MCKINNON: Thank you.