Poor communities in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia have been hit first and worst by Hurricane Michael, with some shellshocked evacuees returning home and realizing the storm has sent them “back to frontier days”.
The storm swept away most of the town of Mexico Beach, population 1,072, producing a level of devastation that was “almost unfathomable” after it hit Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 storm, the Washington Post reports.
When locals returned, they saw that “the public pier had washed away. Entire blocks of houses were wiped clear off their foundations. The town’s landmark El Governor Motel was gutted, its heated pool and Tiki Bar a pile of detritus, colourful beach umbrellas shredded and upended. The popular RV park looked like a junkyard. Beach houses were pulled off their pilings. Toucan’s, a favorite seafood restaurant, lay in ruin.”
“There’s not a word in the dictionary to explain how bad it was,” said resident Thomas Jett, who sheltered in place and survived the storm along with his dog. “It’s like the end of the world….It’s amazing anybody’s still alive, still standing….In the blink of an eye, it’s all gone. It’s horrible.”
Now, “search-and-rescue operations continue, not only in Mexico Beach, which was bulldozed by a storm surge that may have reached 14 feet, but also in the backcountry, where residents are fending for themselves and in some cases fearing they’ve been forgotten by the outside world,” the Post notes. One Lynn Haven resident rode out the storm in the bathroom of her mobile home, clutching her bible.
“She and other residents had been told by elected officials to evacuate in advance of the hurricane,” the Post writes. “But how? To where? She’s a minimum wage worker at a call centre. She couldn’t afford a hotel room. And the storm came so quickly, there wasn’t enough time to prepare for a multi-day stay in a faraway shelter.”
Now, as the recovery gets under way, “rebuilding is going to be an issue,” said Emergency Management Director Rhonda Lewis in Bristol, a small town in Florida’s smallest county. “Because they are so poor. Many of the homes, they had no insurance.”