Hurricane Micheal has altered the landscape of the Florida Panhandle so drastically that it often feels like I’m existing in a different place entirely. 

It’s is like living in a strange new world. Landmarks the I used to pass by, often without a thought, are seen more clearly now in their absence.

Photo by Linda Artman

The trees are bare, the ones still standing. Broken arms reaching toward the sky. Daily I see new specks of green emerging from their stark and gnarled branches. They stand a bit taller, like they’re keeping vigil over the piles and piles of debris lining the streets.

Navigating once familiar roads, I often feel transported to a place far, far away from the one I knew. My heart hurts, but at the same time, I see life stretching to renew itself.

Property damage in the Florida Panhandle is estimated at $4.5 billion.

Much like losing a loved one or a dear friend, the grief feels the same. If I close my eyes I can see clearly the way things used to be. With eyes wide open though, the reminder that the landscape is so unquestionably different is ever present.

The people are the most changed. There’s a certain look in the eyes now. We’ve survived, what I imagine, must feel like a war. The enemy came, blowing through our existence and forever altering us. Much like the barren landscape, there’s an emptiness in the eyes. A sadness that says, yes, I’m still here, but everything is so different now.

I remember feeling that way when I lost my father and my best friend. The world around me went on, but I was stuck somewhere between that last moment, that last breath, and the strange new world I now faced without them.

I think we’re all grieving in that way. Grieving, but hopeful too, that we’ll be able to laugh again, breathe again, and feel joy again in this strange new place. 

©️2018 Jennifer Nelson Fenwick, #850strong

Authors Note: Although the media and news outlets are no longer covering the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, the devastation is very real. Residents of the Panhandle are living it daily. Tent cities are emerging as people forced into homelessness have no where to go. As the weather turns colder, blankets, cots, coats, winter clothing, and other items are sorely needed. Comfort Stations and Shelters are diminishing as time moves on, but the need is still there. The destruction is so widespread that it will be months, years even, before any sense of normalcy is returned to the region. Help is needed NOW. If you are interested and able to provide assistance, there are a number of organizations doing their best to relieve the burdens of those hardest hit and those in need. The organizations listed below are supporting critical and long-term relief and rebuilding efforts in the area (in no particular order).

LOCAL ASSISTANCE:

Hurricane Michael Relief: Panama City School Supply Drive

Hurricane Michael Recovery and Helpful Info

The United Way of Northwest Florida

Texla Civilian Task Force

NATIONAL ASSISTANCE:

The Cajun Navy

The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham

Samaritan’s Purse

Catholic Charities Diocese of St. Petersburg, Inc.

All Hands All Hearts Smart Response Team