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States of emergency

Amid Michael’s ruin, groups bring relief and hopes of recovery

States of emergency

A South Florida Search and Rescue team member searches for survivors in the destruction left after Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Even before Hurricane Michael packed its final punch in Virginia, volunteer groups were packing up and heading toward the storm’s wake of destruction.

A 14-foot tandem-axle trailer loaded with chainsaws departed from the X-tended Missions Network in north Mississippi early Friday morning. Dennis Landrum, a director with the group, said his five-man crew will begin clearing trees from yards and roofs in the Albany, Ga., area over the weekend. 

They should have plenty to do. Michael’s winds pounded the south Georgia city, uprooting massive oaks and snapping pines like matchsticks. Drenching rains and flooding also caused extensive damage, and at daybreak Thursday, storm fallout blocked 100 intersections in Albany alone.

Gerald Herbert/AP

Clean up in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott promised generators to help local government get traffic lights working. “Making sure our families that are returning are safe is one of our top priorities,” he wrote in a tweet. 

Samaritan’s Purse officials are on the ground assessing needs in both Albany and in the Florida Panhandle. The organization earlier deployed two disaster relief units to the region and sent chaplains from the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team.

While a swath of five states felt the brunt of Michael’s wrath, Florida’s devastation is distinct. In coastal Carrabelle, roads are ruined, their pavement buckled and washed out. To the west, Lynn Haven’s electrical grid is gone, and Mayor Margo Anderson predicts the power will be out for two months. Hospitals are evacuated in Bay County. Tyndale Air Force Base is closed.

In response, World Vision’s four truckloads of food, water, diapers, and tents arrived in Pensacola, Fla., late Friday. The aid will be distributed throughout the weekend in hard-hit spots like Mexico Beach, Fla., a tiny tourist town nearly obliterated by Michael. 

“A single truckload can carry enough supplies to serve 1,500 people,” said Reed Slattery, a World Vision spokesman. “We are working to get critical relief supplies to families and children that have had their lives flipped upside down.” 

Michael’s life-flipping abilities are no longer in question. With a death toll of at least 17, experts have deemed it the third-strongest storm to hit the U.S. mainland. William Perkins was behind his desk at the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board (MBCB) when another name in hurricane history—Katrina—first made the news. “Looking at the drone footage from Michael, I see a lot of similarities,” the MBCB spokesman said, referring to flattened areas and concrete blocks. “Makes the hair on my arms stand up.”

Perkins recalled the lengthy post-Katrina recovery efforts in his state: “Our portable kitchen served food in the parking lot of First Baptist, Biloxi for more than a year.” The 18-wheeled, self-contained unit is being staged for Michael-related service now after returning from areas affected by Hurricane Florence. The mass-feeding kitchen will serve six thousand hot meals a day.      

North Carolina-based Hearts with Hands outfitted two tractor trailers with boxed meals and paper products for residents in Panama City, Fla. The goods are set to be unloaded Monday morning in the Central Baptist Church parking lot. The adjacent $5 million church facility, according to Pastor Bruce Barton, is a complete loss: “This area was hit by winds of 150 miles per hour, and I’d say about 80 percent of the city is destroyed. Power lines are everywhere, roofs are off. We had 80 trees on the church property, and none were left standing.”  

Barton spent Friday morning checking on elderly church members without cell phones, “making sure they’re alive.” He expressed concern for hurricane victims who not only lost their homes and possessions, but also their jobs: “We have a lot of educators in our congregation, and the schools are destroyed. My daughter is a dental hygienist. Nobody will be worried about getting their teeth cleaned any time soon.”

Meanwhile, the longtime pastor made plans for an outdoor Sunday morning service. “It’s a sad time, but I’ve noticed uplifted spirits in spite of it.”

Kim Henderson

Kim Henderson

Kim Henderson is a graduate of the WJI Mid-Career Course.