“Six months since Michael, much of the Florida Panhandle is still a shambles. And residents of the most affected areas feel largely forgotten by the public and the federal government, which has not yet passed a federal disaster relief bill for areas affected by Hurricane Michael.”
Emily Atkin, The New Republic | April 19, 2019
It’s been almost seven months since Hurricane Michael ravaged the Florida Panhandle before visiting further destruction on Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia. Already a historic storm, Michael was upgraded to Category 5 strength on Friday, April 19.
Only the fourth storm in our Nation’s history to earn this distinction, we, the residents in the path of the storm’s carnage aren’t surprised by the upgrade.
“My thought is simply that most of us thought we were dealing with a (Category) 5 anyway,” said Al Cathey, mayor of Mexico Beach, which bore the brunt of the storm when it hit (Time | April 19).
According to NOAA, Michael is the strongest hurricane landfall on record in the Florida Panhandle and only the second known Category 5 landfall on the northern Gulf coast.
Those of us who have lived in the aftermath of Michael have weathered countless storms since that day. Though progress is being made, the region and its people are suffering.
Thousands of people have yet to return to their homes, and many are having difficulty finding temporary places to live because housing is scarce and rental costs have skyrocketed. Many residents are living in damaged homes or trailers unfit for human habitation. Some live in tents (New Republic | April 19).
This is unacceptable and without aid, the hardships continue to worsen.
“The ripple effect of the housing crisis is now we also have a workforce crisis, which is very quickly pushing us towards an economic crisis,” Panama City resident Nikki Kelly told the News-Herald.
Forgotten and Struggling
We have begun to wonder if our fellow Americans understand our ongoing struggles at all. To date, charitable donations for relief have been modest compared to other recent storms and natural disasters.
The American Red Cross calculated that designated donations for Hurricane Michael victims totaled $35 million through the end of March. Hurricane Florence, which hit the Carolinas one month earlier, drew $64.3 million. Hurricane Irma, which made landfall near Naples, Fla., one year earlier, prompted $97 million in giving, and Hurricane Harvey, which devastated South Texas in 2017, attracted $522.7 million (The Washington Post | April 6).
We’re Hurting. Now.
For us, the destruction is real. We’re living with it daily. There is no escape. Everywhere we turn, the reminders are there. In our broken, battered landscape. In the remnants of once standing landmarks and buildings. In the eyes of our neighbors. For us, the reality of our struggle is ever-present. We are hurting, now.
Michael caused 49 deaths and more than $5.5 billion in damage. More than 102,000 people have registered for assistance and 16 counties have qualified for federal aid in recovering from the storm (The Washington Post | April 6).
Micheal wrecked 2.8 million acres of agricultural and forest land and destroyed an estimated $1.49 billion in crops, including $1.3 billion in lost timber (New Republic | April 19).
Work crews have removed 31 million cubic yards of debris in Florida, compared to 3 million for Hurricane Irma, a much broader storm that affected the entire peninsula in 2017, according to T.J. Dargan, deputy federal coordinating officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hurricane Michael response and recovery effort (The Washington Post | April 6).
The storm destroyed 72 million tons of timber, according to Jim Karels, director of the Florida Forest Service (The Washington Post | April 6).
Many of the lingering effects of the hurricane are intangible — stress, anxiety, depression. Normal rainstorms trigger outsized panic. People are visibly fatigued, wrung out (Consumer Protection, Insurance | April 7).
Misbehavior among school students has spiked, said Sharon Michalik, public information officer for Bay County Schools, where 4,800 students — about 1 in 6 — are classified as living in temporary homes, which federal officials consider homeless (Consumer Protection, Insurance | April 7).
The crisis is mounting and federal assistance is tied up in legislation stymied by partisan bickering and personal agendas that are destroying our faith in our elected government officials.
The federal relief funding for Hurricane Michael is just a small part of a $13.45 billion disaster aid package that “would send money all over the nation, from California to Hawaii to Alaska to the Midwest and the South,” the Washing Post reported.
Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are feuding over how much aid should go to Puerto Rico, which is still dealing with the aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Maria. “The disagreement has left the two sides at loggerheads with the path forward unclear, even as communities all over the United States struggle to recover from various calamities,” the Washing Post reported.
We Need Help. Now.
In spite of the numbers, the growing crisis, and Michael’s recent upgrade to Category 5, the current and destructive partisan gridlock in Congress has prevented much-needed federal aid for our battered and hurting region.
“[Washington has] forgotten about us, and they’re too busy fighting about other things that don’t really affect us right now,” said Bay County Commissioner Philip Griffitts in an interview with public radio station WUFT. “We need help.” (The New Republic | April 19).
The fight between President Trump and Democrats over money for Puerto Rico has left a major disaster aid bill languishing on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers preparing to head home for a two-week recess with no breakthrough in sight (The Washington Post | April 10)
The stalemate has produced a bitter round of partisan finger-pointing in the Senate in recent days, as Republicans accuse Democrats of playing politics on the legislation, and Democrats criticizing the GOP for following Trump’s lead and holding out against additional spending for Puerto Rico’s slow recovery from Hurricane Maria (The Washington Post | April 10).
While politicians continue to bicker, we continue to suffer. It’s in times like this, in situations as devastating as Michael has been and continues to be, that we count on our elected public officials to do what’s right.
Since October 10, we, the victims of this storm have learned what it truly means to put aside our differences, our frustrations, and our own needs to come to the aid of another.
We’re not asking for handouts. We’re simply asking that our government leaders on both sides of the aisle, put aside their petty differences and arguing long enough to recognize our plight.
We are hardworking, tax-paying citizens, who, through no fault of our own, have been crippled by circumstances far beyond our control.
We are living daily in the aftermath. Like so many before us and so many currently suffering from natural disasters all over the country, we’re simply asking, “How hard can it be to perform your civic and elected duty of acknowledging our hardships and coming to a compromise that alleviates our suffering?”
It’s been 189 days and counting, and still you continue to turn a blind eye to us and hold hostage the very legislation that could provide the assistance we so desperately need.
While you continue to play political games, the situation for us and other disaster-affected regions, including Puerto Rico, only gets worse. You should be ashamed of yourselves.
Jennifer N. Fenwick | Bay County Resident/Author, In the Eye of the Storm
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