PANAMA CITY, Fla. - A flood of 911 calls hit emergency operators in Florida’s Panhandle as Hurricane Michael roared ashore. The operators could only listen and take note of each caller’s address because no first responders could be sent out into the storm’s fierce winds and catastrophic flooding.
The News Herald reviewed over 200 calls for help made in Bay County during the peak of the storm on Oct. 10. The calls recorded the destruction witnessed by those who did not evacuate their homes: power poles snapping and sending live wires into trees and houses. Windows shattering. Trees falling onto homes. Roofs peeling away. Electrical fires.
The operators calmly advised them to seek shelter in bathrooms, push mattresses over windows, and avoid flying debris.
“I can’t tell you not to get on the road,” one operator told a caller. “But it’s more dangerous outside than it is inside right now.”
In one call, a man watched his neighbor collapse in his yard. With the storm howling around them, the operator instructs the man to perform CPR until it becomes clear there was nothing more he can do for his neighbor.
In another call, a woman with young children frantically yells that the roof caved in and her ceiling is about to collapse. The apartment across the hall, however, is empty, and the operator tells her to try and get in there.
“Do what you need to do,” the operator said. “You take care of those babies.”
At one point, calls from security companies overwhelmed the lines, triggered by alarms about broken windows or open doors. The operators initially explain there were no burglaries, just a Category 4 hurricane making landfall. When those calls became too numerous, the operators began immediately disconnecting them to move on to other emergencies.
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