When Hurricane Michael smashed into the Florida Panhandle last week, the deadly storm wreaked havoc on some of the poorest and most vulnerable communities in the state. Almost half a million Floridians were left without power, and thousands without proper shelter and running water. Many now face weeks more of this primitive way of living as devastated towns and families struggle to get back on their feet.
Mary Frances Parrish, 72, is among the thousands of Floridians who are bracing themselves for weeks without electricity and running water.
Parrish lives in the Panama City area with her 47-year-old son, Derrell. Her son is terminally ill, she told the Associated Press, and has a life expectancy of just a few weeks. Derrell, who has cancer, may not live to see the electricity return to their home, which suffered significant damage in the storm. Parrish said, however, that the pair have no money and no car to leave for somewhere better.
“I didn’t have a way of getting away from here. My car’s under repair and there’s nowhere to go or the money to pay for a place,” Parrish told AP. “People are sending stuff in. I’ve got plenty of water, I’ve got cold drinks, I’ve got plenty to eat. It may be right out of the can, but it’s plenty to eat. As long as you can have plenty to eat and drink and stay in good spirits, you’ll make it.”
The Washington Post reported on Sunday that about 200,000 Floridians were “still sleeping in the dark and unable to operate their well water pumps. Many are running out of fuel in their vehicles.”
Officials with the Federal Emergency and Management Agency (FEMA) have warned that it could be “multiple weeks” before power is fully restored to some hard-hit areas.
In Lynn Haven, a city in Bay County where Hurricane Michael downed “just about every tree” and destroyed the power grid, Mayor Margo Anderson has warned residents that it could take up to two months for power to be restored to every home.
Gulf Power, the main utility in the area, has estimated that electricity will be restored to Lynn Haven and neighboring communities by Oct. 24 ― which would be about two weeks after the storm hit.
But Anderson told The New York Times on Sunday that she wants people to be prepared for the worst. “I just want to be realistic and warn people that for a while, it’s going to be pretty primitive living,” Anderson said.
Residents in Blountstown, located in the hard-hit Calhoun County, have also been told that it could take weeks for their lights to return.
“It’s a total rebuild of our system,” city manager Traci Hall told the Times. “Almost every single light pole in this city is on the ground. There is hardly any wires left hanging, period.”
For vulnerable communities already saddled with hardship prior to the storm, the recovery journey is expected to be especially challenging. Many of the counties impacted by Michael ― including Calhoun, Gulf and Franklin ― have some of the highest poverty rates in the state.
In the wake of the hurricane, which killed at least 18 people in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia, many stories of scarcity and desperation have been reported. As of Sunday, dozens of people remained missing in the Florida Panhandle.
The mayor of Lynn Haven estimated that more than half of the city’s 20,000 residents don’t have generators. In Blountstown, the city manager said “there are many, many that do not have a generator and can’t afford to purchase” one.
In the Panama City area, many residents who can’t afford to leave their damaged homes said they were hunkering down and making do with whatever they have.
Clinton Moseley, a 55-year-old who lost part of his leg in a car accident, told the AP that he and his 81-year-old mother were staying in their house, which suffered extensive damage after a huge tree crashed through the roof.
“Where the hell do you go?” said Moseley, who does not have a job. “I survive. I got one leg. I don’t have nothing. I ain’t going nowhere.”
David Spates, a 72-year-old who lives alone and has two amputated legs because of complications from his diabetes, told Buzzfeed that he too was staying put.
“I don’t really have any transportation,” Spates said, adding that he was relying on his neighbors for help.
FEMA Administrator William “Brock” Long said Sunday that officials were doing their best to expedite the recovery process ― but warned there was still a “long way to go.”
“A lot of times people don’t realize the National Guard, the power trucks, the charitable groups, this is all a coordinated effort,” Long said, according to the Post. “We are seeing the private sector come back up pretty quickly. We’ve got a long way to go, but expectations that things will be put back together instantly is mistaken.”
Even when the lights do come back on, some impacted communities say they’re preparing for the long slog.
In Calhoun County, for instance, officials said the main commercial operation ― the timber industry ― could take years to bounce back after being devastated by the storm.
“We are used to bad days, but right now we’re facing three bad months,”
Calhoun County Sheriff Glen Kimbrel told the Post. “We’ll be 25 years recovering from this in our timber community.”