HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – It has been 11 days since hurricane Michael made landfall at Mexico Beach, Florida. Even though that’s 400 miles away, the losses and suffering were felt here at home.When Michael slammed into the Florida panhandle, it was a monster. The category four storm had 155 mile per hour winds.
Michael causing catastrophic damage especially in the area between Panama City Beach and Mexico Beach. One of the storm victims told us, “It won’t ever be the same I don’t reckon.” The devastation continued well inland.
Even President Donald Trump couldn’t believe his eyes when he toured the damaged area five days later. Walking down a street, he told reporters, “It’s hard to believe it when you’re above it in a plane and to see the total devastation. To see no houses left, not even the pads are left. It’s incredible.”
WHNT News 19 had boots on the ground when it was safe to go into the area. Another storm victim we encountered said, “Hope, pray and get through this and start rebuilding.”
Photojournalist Shane Hays and reporter Kelly Vaughen headed south to bring the story home to the Tennessee Valley. Another storm victim told them, “I’m not leaving, It’s going to take more than this to get me out of here I can tell you that right now.”
Shane vacations at Mexico Beach with his family. “Just driving in and seeing nothing recognizable was pretty heart breaking,” he said. Everywhere they turned, storm survivors welcomed them with open arms. “Every street we walked or drove down, people looked at us and said thank you for being here,” Shane said. Kelly adding, “People wanted their stories told, what they went through and they wanted help.”
Kelly and Shane delivered some of that too. “I mean, how could we not?” Kelly said. Shane had thrown a chain saw in the back of their news vehicle in case they needed one when they got there to get where they needed to go.
It’s about showing compassion in the worst of times. Shane grinned and said, “A lot of hugs, a lot of smiles.” After using the chain saw to clear a tree off a house so a man could get inside his home, the man was moved to tears and gave Kelly a huge hug. She’s never forget it, saying, “The kindness of people in the face of such devastation. Everybody I spoke with had a smile when they could, even though tears.” Shane added, “People going through some tough times, they just need some reassurance that people do care about them, and people are listening and people want to help.”
Help also came from some of our neighbors like John and Randa Owen Starnes. They collected supplies and donations dropped off at the Alabama Fan Club in Fort Payne. It was all loaded into cattle trailers at Kelly and Randy Owen’s farm on Lookout Mountain and taken to farmers around Marianna, Florida who lost everything.
And let’s not forget the guys from utilities and electric coops across the Tennessee Valley that rolled south to repair what Michael tore down. An eight-man crew from Fayetteville Public Utilities is helping restore power in Georgia.
Line workers from Huntsville Utilities shared some photos from the work they’re doing in Chattahoochee, Florida. Guys from Athens Utilities Electric Department have been working in Havana and Quincy, Florida. Crews from Sheffield, Florence and Russellville have also answered the call to get the power back on in Alabama and Florida.
Time will help heal the wounds but the scars from Michael will be with us for a while. If you’d like to do something to help the victims of hurricane Michael, here are several links where you can donate or volunteer to help in the recovery effort.