A couple of weeks ago my husband, Jeff, and I decided to go to Florida to get the reconstruction going on Jan, my mother-in-law’s, condo. Hurricane Michael had decided to do a little remodeling. Her condo is on Panama City Beach, and even though the roof was removed, furniture destroyed and walls torn down, she’s still one of the lucky ones. Lucky, in that she and my sister-in-law, Julie, were emergency evacuated before the storm hit and were safe. And lucky, in that insurance will be absorbing most, if not all, of her debt.
When the hurricane happened we heard some people had stayed. At home, we watched the coverage and you could see roofs, float away like tissue paper, and entire homes collapse in on themselves. You knew it was bad and like every natural disaster you worry about the people, and the new normal they have to face. Invariably, something else comes up and it’s not that you don’t care about those people anymore, you just get wrapped up in the next thing, and then the next thing, and then the next thing.
It’s what I did. Originally, we were going to Florida, for our anniversary and to spend some time with Jan, before the storm came. This place is beautiful, sunny, and humid, with white quartz beaches, and clear aquamarine water. You go to sleep with the slider door open and listen to the waves break against the beach. And the rest of America has nothing on southern hospitality.
Upon landing, we understood that things were going to be different. Not that you can’t still do those things. It’s still beautiful and Panama City Beach is, for the most part, up and running. There are only certain areas of the city that are non-working or closed for construction. However, we immediately started seeing three-story debris piles, that weren’t just scattered here and there. It looked like it does in the mountains when the snow plow comes through and pushes the snow to the side of the road. As we approached the city, we noticed caved in roofs, and construction pickup trucks dot every parking lot, condo facility, home, and business.
Home Depot and other home improvement stores were wiped clean of building supplies. Gas pumps had maybe one or two pumps open and it was clear, this once extremely fun and festive city was hurting. Not that you saw people feeling sorry for themselves, far from it. You’d see drives being held for others and people who were in as bad of shape as everyone else, were donating to it. The humidity was keeping things warm but also keeping things wet, and when you can’t dry things out, black mold begins to grow. Jeff and I thought it was bad, really bad, and then we drove to Panama City Central and Mexico Beach.
The carnage that ripped through these areas was night and day to Panama City Beach. Here, entire areas were flattened, and half hulled boats were in the driving medians. The trees, looking as if hit in a nuclear blast, were all broken in the same direction. Most homes were caved in and every house had a blue tarp on its roof. Huge hundred-year-old trees perched completely uprooted atop rooftops. That wasn’t the exception, it was the rule. Huge concrete buildings were caved in and we found out the amount of damage was completely dependent upon whether you could keep your doors and windows intact. If you could, your structure might stand, if you couldn’t the strongest foundation would crumble. Most businesses were closed, but eventually, we did find a restaurant, then sat and talked with locals who told us the real 411 of life after a 200-year-old storm hits an unprepared region.
They told us to not just go down the main street but into the housing developments. Only the slightest margin occupy their homes anymore, most live in tent cities now. Many of these people stayed in their homes, having other Floridians come to stay with them, because the storm wasn’t supposed to hit there and by the time it did hit, it was too late to leave. I asked a lady where the most help was needed and she said the kids. My heart went in my throat, as I asked, what about the kids. She said they desperately needed shoes. Most left their homes with very few possessions and because Florida has a warmer climate, shoes weren’t immediately thought of. Which is fine but that was 5-6 weeks ago. Now the temperatures are dropping and the humidity that once kept people warm makes things colder.
I decided to get involved and contacted the Bay County School District. Our very good friends Bob and Danielle Thayer, own the Northside shoe company. I immediately called her and asked if they’d be willing to help. Danielle didn’t even hesitate and is preparing to do just that.
Here’s the note I received from the Bay County School District. The kids in the badly hit counties have all been absorbed into other schools and only started school again last week. They’re trying to keep the class sizes down but as you can imagine it’s difficult. Teachers I spoke with said they’re also in desperate need of school supplies!