PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — As we rapidly approach the second anniversary of Hurricane Michael many in the Gulf Coast are focusing on hurricane delta.
And while preparation is needed a local group is hoping to bring attention and investment back to the Panhandle.
“We want to make sure that Hurricane Michael is not forgotten,” said former Florida Speaker of the House Will Weatherford. “There are still thousands and thousands of people whose lives have been turned upside down.”
Rebuild 850 was formed immediately after Hurricane Michael as a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization dedicated to encouraging donations, volunteers, visitors and investment to support the recovery of the Panhandle.
During a Wednesday news conference, Weatherford and former Speaker of the House Allan Bense, Senator Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, and others called for help.
“Ultimately what the region needs to fully recover is investment,” Weatherford said. “And that’s private investment. Its not just public investment. We need business to come there. We need economic opportunity for people on the ground there. We need for it to flourish economically on its own.”
The group also touched on several other issues faced by Panhandle residents in the wake of the storm. One of the biggest is the need for affordable housing.Craig fugate former fema administrator
“Housing has been a real challenge here,” said Craig Fugate, a former FEMA administrator. “Over 14,000 residents changed addresses just in Panama City.”
The group noted that some workers are still driving nearly 100 miles to their jobs because of the lack of housing. Meanwhile, when new homes are built, or re-built, they must weather the next storm.
“We need to build it for the risk we face,” Fugate said. “We need to figure out how to build back better and how to use our federal dollars to help folks that can’t afford that to make sure they aren’t left behind.”
The storm also caused issues in a wide variety of industries and forced some businesses to close
“What happened when Michael came through, it devastated the timber industry,” Montford said. “There’s still timber on the ground.”
The group said the pandemic has also slowed down a once booming recovery. However, the community is still moving forward and heavily damaged places like Mexico Beach are starting to see success.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done in Mexico Beach. But they’re gaining on it every day,” Bense said.