Panama City, Fla., Dealt A Devastating Blow By Hurricane Michael

12 hours ago
Originally published on October 11, 2018 5:53 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It is the day after, the day after Hurricane Michael slammed into the state's Panhandle region. Search and rescue teams are going door-to-door through the area today. Florida Governor Rick Scott says the storm has dealt a devastating blow to several communities.

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RICK SCOTT: So many lives have been changed forever. So many families have lost everything. Homes are gone. Businesses are gone. Roads and infrastructure along the storm's path have been destroyed.

CHANG: All right. NPR's Debbie Elliott joins us now from Panama City, one of the places hardest hit by the storm. Communications are still difficult there, but we think we have you. Right, Debbie? Hey there.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Right. I'm here.

CHANG: All right. So tell us, what is it like there now?

ELLIOTT: Well, it's utter destruction. And, you know, I've covered a lot of hurricanes, and this is probably one of, you know, the ones I would say are in the top rank, in terms of just everywhere you look there is something wrong. Nothing is right. You know, people here talk a little bit about losing their bearings in some places because things are gone. Trees are snapped in two. They're down everywhere. They're on top and through all kinds of structures. The huge metal light posts are just twisted like they're a crumpled paper straw. Roofs have been ripped from buildings. Windows have been blown out.

And when you try to go down any street, they're covered by felled trees or power poles. There are also all kinds of debris on the roadways. There are power lines down. Just random stuff, like street signs, or glass or a chunk of a billboard. It's very difficult terrain.

CHANG: Wow. What a picture you just painted. What about rescue efforts? How are they going so far?

ELLIOTT: Well, it's been difficult to get to people, but they're underway. Right now those front-lift things - the word, I'm losing it. But they're trying to clear the roads of all of the stuff so that emergency vehicles can get through. There are lots of power trucks here, but the power trucks can't get to work, of course, until things are back out of the way for them to get to where they can put the power lines back up. So right now it's just a matter of trying to get everything out of the way so that the work for recovery can begin, but the bigger issue is getting to people who need help.

CHANG: And have you been able to talk to a lot of people affected by the hurricane? I mean, how are they holding up?

ELLIOTT: You know, think right now people are just trying to figure out what's next for them. I went to this apartment complex in Lynn Haven, which is just north of Panama City, and it's a mess. You know, you can see the top rooms open to the sunlight because of the roofs being gone and trees through them. I talked with Tonya Robinson, who stays there with her family. She says she's homeless and has been living with them, and she can't believe what she's seeing. She's a native of Panama City.

TONYA ROBINSON: The devastation out here, it's horrific. I just - I mean, I'm just in so much shock because I've never seen this happen in Panama City before.

CHANG: Now, the images that we keep seeing here are of complete destruction. But can you give us a more accurate scale of the damage right now?

ELLIOTT: You know, there is no count or anything, but the kinds of things they're facing, there's a water boil notice. So you can't - but you can't really boil your water if you don't have power, unless you have a way to set up a fire. So those kinds of problems are what are facing people.

CHANG: All right. That's NPR's Debbie Elliott in Panama City. Fla. Thank you, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.