by Tracy Johnstone
It started with a Facebook post 100 days after the storm. The post read like a gospel invitation. An invitation to step forward; to take a step away from the chaos of recovery. This was a salvation call for each of us as women and for the community that we all call home.Tracy Johnstone, contributing author, In the Aftermath of the Storm
It all started with a Facebook post on January 18, 2019. What we would call 100 days after the storm. All-time is now measured in before and after the storm. I suspect that will be true for quite some time.
The post read, “I feel like I want to talk to all the ladies out there for a minute. Following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, a group of hometown ladies gathered themselves and created Women of the Storm. I’m curious if there’s such a group in Panama City who can be our voice of destruction, our voice of despair, and our voice of determination to spread the news about our calamities to those who can help improve our recovery but are just unaware of what it’s really like here. If there’s even just a few of you who are willing to be the voices of our community to the outside, I’ll open up my office and y’all can figure out your message, who you want to tell, and how you want to tell it. Ladies, are you interested?”
The post read like a gospel invitation. An invitation to step forward; to take a step away from the chaos of recovery. This was a salvation call for each of us as women and for the community that we all call home.
You see we were 100 days into a recovery from a category five hurricane that ravaged our town—wiping out over 80 percent of our tree canopy, demolishing 1 in 10 homes, and destroying nearly every church building we had. We were naked. We were weary and exposed. But mostly, we were finding hope just plain hard to come by.
So, we gathered together as “sisters of the storm” to figure out exactly who we were. We knew we had been forgotten by the media, corporate America, and it would seem by our own country. We knew we had to do something to change that. We were as grassroots as it gets. No structure, no budget, no agenda; and therein lay the magic, the hope, the sisterhood that would become Michel’s Angels.
We did what mothers and grandmothers have done for centuries; we told the story. We became the storytellers of Hurricane Michael and all things recovery. We became educated in the legislative process and rallied the cry of despair. It has been how many days since the storm and still no state or federal funding? We made sure our stories were told and our voices were heard.
The people of the Panhandle were battered by this storm, you could feel the desperation in the air. The debris piles taller than my home were dwindling while the anxiety of insolvent municipalities and depleted budgets escalated. Our self-rescue efforts could only take us so far.
So, we gathered our villages and we took our story to the steps of the capital and opened the Book of Michael for all the world to see. It was the Rally in Tally that not only got the attention of the press, but it was a movement of solidarity for our community that was a balm for our many wounds.
This sisterhood of the storm called Michael’s Angels took on a life of its own and took over much of our spare time too. Have you ever been to a meeting and been one of the folks to hang around and talk, clean up, wrap things up? If so, then you know that hanging around to help makes you a helper, which makes you a volunteer, which makes you one of those privileged souls, in this case, to do the behind the scenes work.
We were all still in that “I don’t need another thing on my plate” phase. Displaced from homes, trying to get a business back open and functional, contractors, insurance people, all while keeping our own sanity post-storm. I believe we did not pick Michael’s Angels, Michael’s Angels picked us.
It was finally the perfect storm of women to fight the storm that ravaged our community. The business owner, the medical professionals, the mothers, the PhD candidate, the political guru, the school administrator, the wife, and the attorney. And we met. And we planned. We made the phone calls, sent the emails, wrote the briefings, went to the meetings, and rallied with the people of this amazing community.
So, what happened next? When the storyteller is good every good listener wants to know!
The satisfaction of work well done, minds changed, bills passed, offenses forgiven, had given rise like yeast to bread of an undeniable, unquestionable, unending sisterhood of the storm between the six of us.
The name Michael’s Angels and our work may be archived but friendships and bonds we have formed are stronger than those winds at the eye of the storm.
In the Eye of the Storm, published in January, 2019 tells the story of Hurricane Michael’s brutal landfall along the Panhandle of Florida on October 10, 2018. A collection of poetry, stories, and images from survivors and residents, In the Eye of the Storm gives readers a poignant account of the events leading up to and in the days and weeks following the Category 5 hurricane’s destruction of the region.
In the Aftermath of the Storm, released on October 10, 2019, the one-year anniversary of the day that changed the region and the lives of its residents forever, picks up where the first book ended. Telling the stories of hope, healing, and community, In the Aftermath of the Storm captures the resilience and determination of the residents and the many volunteers who continued to make a difference long after the camera crews had gone and the outside world had moved on.
Both books are available through Amazon with all proceeds benefiting the Hurricane Michael Relief Fund, which continues to assist in relief and rebuilding efforts throughout the area. The books are also available locally at Cher’s Hallmark in Lynn Haven and at the United Way of Northwest Florida offices in downtown Panama city.