By Devin “Deezy” Anderson
Oct. 9, 2018. While at work broadcasting live weather updates, my feeling of nervousness slowly intensifies. Each hourly report seems to be getting worse. Hurricane Michael is coming right at us. Originally projected to make landfall as a Category 3 storm, Michael keeps picking up speed.
By morning, the hurricane is only 5 MPH short of being a Category 5 monster—the strongest storm to hit the Florida Panhandle in the history of recorded weather. As a born and raised Ohioan, I have yet to experience anything like it. All I can think of is making sure my family was prepared.
Oct. 10, 2018. Hurricane Michael makes landfall around 2 PM EST near Mexico Beach, winds clocking in at 155 MPH. The eye of the storm shifts east and completely destroys Mexico Beach, Panama City, Marianna and surrounding areas. The images being shown of the destruction are unnerving and heartbreaking. I live only an hour and a half away from Panama City and instantly think of those friends and associates that live in those areas.
I feel bad that all we’re getting here in the Crestview-Fort Walton Beach area is a little rain and wind. I don’t feel a bit of relief that the storm has missed us. Just the day before, I was sharing memes about the hurricane on social media that I thought were funny. But this was no joke.
And I am about to see firsthand why it wasn’t. I feel the need to do something. All I can think about are those affected. Everything lost. Unimaginable conditions. Just over the course of hours, everything was gone for them. A few good friends of mine decide to get together and provide as much aid to those areas as humanly possible.
Oct. 11, 2018. After a short night of spontaneous planning, our group meets up and starts the two-hour journey to Panama City. The entire 24 hours prior, we’d seen so many destructive images—they didn’t do the actual sight of the damage justice. As we approach, there is an instant, eerie feeling. Things go from normal settings to feeling like we’ve crossed into a war zone.
Our group pulls into the city amongst an active curfew, and warnings from law enforcement that no one is allowed into the city that isn’t authorized emergency personnel. We witness firsthand what it is like to be in a disaster area. Every tree in sight snapped in half or laying across a building or structure. Entire apartment complexes, neighborhoods and shopping centers leveled. Downed power lines, glass and other debris fill every street and road.
It’s constant sirens and police zooming by, as well as fire and rescue. And electric company trucks as far as the eye can see it. Just navigating the city is proving to be a near impossible task. We are three cars deep, and we’ve stuffed every vehicle to the brim with supplies. There is work to do, and we are there to see it through, no matter what.
Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I come to realize that heroes don’t always wear capes. La’Shay Scott, Shawn Yabui, Keyousha Shanté, T. Stuckey, Demetra Williams, Wes Krave, Jessalyn Kelly, Chris and Elizabeth from No Surrender Ink, and a few others demonstrate a sense of urgency and community we should all strive to achieve. Complete dedication from dusk till dawn, helping as many of those affected as humanly possible.
We are all warned about entering certain areas. While the more affluent areas are being taken care of, the ‘hoods and inner city are being completely ignored. Imagine our shock, not only at the scenery, but at the level of despair of Panama City’s inner city residents. No supplies or responders helping at all, just entire families squatting in the one stable apartment of a big apartment complex.
Children asleep on the curb. The elderly relying on those in the neighborhood to care for them. People digging for whatever they can find to eat. Children and babies sick or injured with no way to get medication or first aid supplies. I haven’t seen anything like this in my life.
Sheriff trucks patrol the same inner city streets they told us were unreachable. I think, They can police us, but they can’t help us? So we travel from neighborhood to neighborhood, town to town, dropping off everything from water to medical supplies. Even amongst the chaos of Michael’s aftermath, there is beauty radiating from the people affected by that massive storm.
One day while we are moving throughout Lynn Haven, we come across a small apartment complex. Four buildings, two of which are completely destroyed. The other two are being used by the residents as a central hub for their neighborhood.
We pull up looking to hand out supplies. What we find is a community. Black and white, listening to blues music from one of their only functional vehicles. Barbecuing, dancing, playing cards and keeping each other’s spirits up in this time of distress. As we get out of our vehicles, we’re greeted with hugs and one specific question.
“Do you guys have bread?” the older gentleman on the grill ask. I reply, “Yes, sir.” He then proceeds to make us all some of the best rib sandwiches we’ve ever had. The love is so thick in the air. In one of the neighborhoods we were told vehemently to stay away from, here we are in complete awe of folks who lost it all but have everything in each other.
Everyday that we return to our homes is bittersweet. As much as I want to feel this sense of accomplishment, it isn’t there. Yes, we’d been helpful, but it isn’t enough. Yes, we went out of our way to help others, but it isn’t enough. We witnessed mass destruction. Thousands of people displaced. Entire neighborhoods left in ruins by the most destructive storm to hit the Panhandle.
There is a reason we don’t want a pat on the back, why we cannot live emotionally in a place of happiness and satisfaction. We were returning to our fully intact homes everyday while our neighbors were simply trying to make it through the day.
We all take so much for granted daily. It’s easy to do until what you take for granted gets taken from you. The fight to rebuild is not over for Hurricane Michael survivors, it’s just beginning. And they’ll have our entire community supporting them every step of the way.
We are all #PanhandleStrong.