Recovery from Hurricane Michael

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Thursday, the 3rd of January, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up, recovery from Hurricane Michael. It’s been almost three months since the storm slammed into the Florida Panhandle and other Gulf Coast states.

Hurricane Michael left 36 people dead and insurance claims that topped $4.65 billion.

Entire towns were destroyed from coastal beach towns to rural communities.

REICHARD: Kim Henderson provided Hurricane Michael coverage for WORLD just after the storm made landfall in October. She’s here now to give us an update. Kim, what can you tell us about recovery efforts?

KIM HENDERSON, CORRESPONDENT: Well, Mary, it’s been nearly 3 months now since Michael hit, and according to the residents and volunteers I spoke with, significant progress has been made, but complete recovery is going to be a long, hard process. On the hard side: More than 600 survivor households are still checked into hotels. Some are living in tents, and others are in their homes but have to wait on inspections before their power can be turned back on. On the upside: One resident told me he was really excited to get his internet service back last week. And there’s good news on the school front. Many campuses had to combine after Michael hit, and others abbreviated their schedules, with high school students going until lunch, and middle schoolers coming in for the afternoon. But a public information officer for Panama City told me portable buildings were brought in over the holidays and most schools in the area should be able to conduct full schedules very soon.

REICHARD: Anyone say what’s causing the delays?

HENDERSON: Well, Michael packed quite a punch – winds of 155 miles per hour. That’s only 2 miles per hour short of being a Category 5 hurricane. That wind devastation is what many told me sets this recovery apart. As a result, one of the main issues facing affected areas is debris. Two weeks ago, the Panama City Commission approved a $50 million bank loan to help with debris removal and other hurricane-related expenses. They expect to get help with that debt from the federal government, but it could be years before that happens.

REICHARD: Speaking of the federal government, what role is FEMA playing in recovery efforts?

HENDERSON: A big one. The latest reports show that more than a $100 million dollars has been allocated for housing assistance for those living in areas affected by Michael. Funds are also available until April for those who are out of work because of hurricane damage. But, you know, I talked with FEMA representative Lanisha Smith and she was very straightforward about FEMA’s limitations after a disaster like Michael. Here’s what she said:

SMITH: FEMA is here to jumpstart your recovery efforts and your recovery goals. But we’re never going to make anyone whole. We’re here to help you, of course. We can always direct you to other disaster assistance resources.

HENDERSON: Did you hear that, Mary? “Never make anyone whole.” I think that really underscores the importance of Christian volunteers going in to assist with recovery.

REICHARD: I know you’ve interviewed a couple of volunteer teams. What did they have to say about the ongoing recovery work?

HENDERSON: One minister I talked with from Columbus, Mississippi, said it’s very difficult not to get overwhelmed by the devastation. His church has sent teams to Florida each week since mid-October, and he says he tells them to focus on a small cleanup project and to not look beyond it, because it’s so disheartening. He also said that God enabled them to help a lot of families at Christmas.  He told me one story about an elderly Panama City couple living in a home without a roof. They’d been there for 40 years and wouldn’t leave. All they wanted for Christmas was a gas heater. Volunteers made sure they got one. Another team leader I spoke with was Phillip Price. His group lived through Hurricane Katrina and could really understand what Michael survivors are experiencing.

PRICE: People forget quickly. You know, there’s another disaster that occurs and people forget. And so, we just don’t want to forget, and we want to help. And that’s why we’re going to be going back to help as much as we can.

REICHARD: Sounds like they’re in it for the long haul. Thanks for this report, Kim.

HENDERSON: You’re welcome, Mary.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File) In this Oct. 12, 2018, file photo, debris from Hurricane Michael is scattered over Mexico Beach, Fla. Hurricane Michael’s impact is one the top stories in Florida in 2018. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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