MEXICO BEACH, Fla. - Officials continue to assess the damage and aftermath of Hurricane Michael, which has ravaged the communities of Panama City and Mexico Beach.
In a special assignment, a News4Jax crew flew over those cities in a helicopter with Air and Marine Operations, an operational component of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Agents on board the UH-60 Black Hawk were sent out to examine the damage and provide assistance to those in need.
Houses were flattened, trees were down and the power was out. Many people had no food, water or access to the outside. During the six-hour trip, we were simply amazed at the strength of humanity.
The mission was assigned at 9 a.m. Friday.
“Our mission today was really to go out and provide support for anyone in need,” said Creighton Skeen, an aviation enforcement agent.
Skeen’s job involved ensuring the flight was smooth.
After the 1 ½-hour flight to Mexico Beach, we saw lots of downed trees and destroyed homes.
We even made a quick stop for phone calls.
“When we went to assess the damage in the Mexico Beach area, we landed to talk to residents, to see if they were all right and if they needed food or water,” Skeen said. “I asked them if they were able to contact family members to let them know they were all right. Several said they hadn’t been able to. There is no cell service in the area. There’s no electricity (and) no water, so I allowed the residents to use my (satellite) phone so they could talk to family members to let them know they’re OK.”
That stop was brief. Next, we headed to Panama City to refuel.
There, we met Shaquan Harris, a husband and father of two who said he lost everything.
When asked if he had stopped by to check on his home, Harris said yes.
“Oh yeah, it’s gone,” Harris said. “It’s gone. It’s gone. We actually got a room at the Holiday Inn Express. We stayed there and the eye came right over us. We were looking right up. It was one space in the sky. That’s all we seen.”
Harris said he didn’t realize that Hurricane Michael, a Category 4 storm with winds reaching 155 mph, would be so devastating. He and his family rode out the storm in their hotel room with only two beds and more than 10 people.
“I regret not leaving,” Harris said. “We should’ve left. We should’ve left. We should’ve left. … When they say evacuate, you need to evacuate, no matter what part (the storm is) in. Even if it’s in the next town over, you need to evacuate. The categories jumped up quick. Within an hour, it went from (a Category) 3 to 4, and I think it was almost close to a 5.”
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