4 months after hurricane, Panhandle residents feel forgotten

By Mike Schneider, Associated Press
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Kimbrely Brock sits with her 4-year-old son Taben on the steps of a friend's trailer in Panama City that was destroyed by Hurricane Michael at the Bay Oaks Village trailer park in October 2018 in Panama City.

PANAMA CITY, Fla. - It was little more than four months ago that one of the most intense hurricanes ever to make landfall in the continental United States devastated large parts of the Florida Panhandle -- recent enough that displaced residents are still living in tents and empty foundations still stand in place of the homes that were ripped from their lots.

And yet the people who live here feel like the rest of the world has forgotten them.

Nonprofit relief organizations and local officials say the funds collected on behalf of survivors of Hurricane Michael are well below those that poured in for victims of other hurricanes in the past three years.

The global attention the Category 4 storm first received quickly faded as national and international news media moved on to cover the midterm election and disastrous fires in California. There were no celebrity-studded telethons for the victims as there were last year for victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, or more than a dozen years ago for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

“We recognize there are other places in the country that have issues. But northwest Florida in the last six weeks to eight weeks, we feel like we have fallen by the wayside,” said Mayor Al Cathey of Mexico Beach, the seaside city of about 1,200 people that lost 80 percent of its homes when the hurricane barreled ashore on Oct. 10 with 155-mph winds. “I don’t want to not sound appreciative for all that was done initially. They showed up en masse, and we’re grateful. But now we’re at the point of a reality check.”

Mexico Beach only received its first reimbursement check for $2.4 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in February, more than four months after the storm hit.

The timing of Hurricane Michael made a difference, coming as it did right before the midterm election and the Camp Fire in California, which diverted the public’s attention, said Sharon Council Tyler, executive director of the American Red Cross chapter in Tallahassee.

The location was just as important. Unlike Houston after Hurricane Harvey or major cities in South Florida affected by Hurricane Irma, the small Panhandle towns hit by Michael have less visibility and fewer resources to make their plight known.

Lori Hogan lost her home in the hurricane. She is now living in a tent in the backyard of a Good Samaritan.

“It’s awful. It’s really awful,” she said. “It’s like people have forgotten about everything here.”

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