By Carrie Hunter
In April, my co-director Austin and I set off to Apalachicola intending to make a documentary about the history of air conditioning. The route we took looked like Godzilla crashed through forests, homes and businesses. Hurricane Michael hit the area almost six months prior. In Pensacola, we had long forgotten our neighbors and were shocked by the lack of recovery. At this time, we decided to film a documentary about people still struggling due to the storm.
The most striking part of Michael is how large of an area was decimated. We drove between Panama City and Apalachicola and north to Greenwood. The timber and cotton industries suffered major blows. Affordable housing is scarce. The coastal areas are badly damaged, but the situation inland is even more desperate. We found families living in tents, homes filled with mold, campers with leaking roofs and no electricity. In Jackson and Calhoun counties, mobile homes were crushed like tin cans and metal roofs of wood houses ripped off.
We visited a family of seven who lived in tents in the woods. Their original home was in Fountain. Small, barefoot children ran around the camp. Their father explained how they lost everything, including their beds, in a matter of hours. His 21-year-old daughter wanted to go to trade school, but felt stuck until they could have a real home again.
FEMA sent a letter to the family that stated their house was safe to inhabit. I went and visited the address listed on the letter. Half the floor had collapsed. There was no roof, and walls on two sides were knocked down. Several other people told me of similar FEMA letters for homes that were destroyed.
In a damaged camper, I met Rosie, a grandmother who could barely walk due to diabetes. Her destroyed home sat nearby condemned by the city. Her husband did the best he could, but was struggling himself to make the property livable. Their camper had no electricity, but the doctor had ordered that Rosie stay cool.
Volunteers visited round the clock to refill a small generator that ran a window unit air conditioner. She had no refrigerator and said that she wasn’t sure if her insulin had gone bad, but she had to use it anyway. She wanted her grandchildren to come visit, but the property was too dangerous. Rosie and volunteer Jodie Mosley spoke for a while about their faith that God would help her.
For every person we filmed, I received dozens of similar emails. Homelessness, increased rents, mold, water damage, job losses, and depression permeate every level of society. This is over six months after Hurricane Michael. Even upper middle class families are struggling. The poorest were kicked off the edge of a cliff. As a native Floridian, I’m aware that this could have been my home and my family in Pensacola.
Let’s not forget our neighbors. This hurricane season, we could be standing in their shoes.