Panhandle leaders reflect as Hurricane Michael one year anniversary approaches

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BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — Panhandle leaders are using Hurricane Michael’s one-year anniversary to remind the world we still need help. The eye of the category five storm passed over Tyndall Air Force Base, causing massive damage over an 8-county area. 

Ask any local and they’ll tell you they believe everyone has forgotten about the storm, or never knew about it to begin with.

“It’s not a population center,” said Will Weatherford, former Florida House speaker. “It’s a limited population. A lot of people don’t spend time in the Panhandle and because of that, people have forgotten faster.”

The storm caused up to 17 billion dollars in economic losses and insured losses are nearing 7 billion dollars. 

“We work hard,” said Allan Bense, former Florida House speaker. “We don’t complain and we don’t whine. We don’t want handouts.”

Some believe that general attitude may be part of the problem. Thousands of people are still homeless and there’s also a growing mental-health crisis.

As many as 30-thousand people gave up and left the area.

Hurricane Michael devastated the timber industry too, and much of the trees still rotting in fields.

“The devastation to the timber industry over there, everybody that comes through just can’t believe it,” said Gene Bailey, Calhoun County commissioner. “You actually have to see it. We look like a third-world country still.”

Lawmakers put 220 million dollars in the state budget for storm-recovery. There’s another seven million dollars in donations. 

But, repairs have been slow, due in part to a lack of affordable housing and unsettled insurance claims. Community leaders are worried the slow recovery will mean less tax revenues.

“If these solutions are not found in a relatively short period of time, you could find yourself with a community that has a hard time ever looking like it did pre-Michael,” Weatherford said. “We can’t let that happen.”

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