One year later: Florida Panhandle struggling with Hurricane Michael recovery

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PANAMA CITY, Fla (WMBB) Ask any local, and they’ll tell you they believe everyone has forgotten about Hurricane Michael or never knew about it to begin with.

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

The storm caused up to $17 billion in economic losses. Insured losses are nearing $ 7 billion.

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

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 30,000 people gave up and left the area. 

Michael devastated the timber industry, 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. You actually have to see it. We look like a third-world country still,” said Gene Bailey, Chairman of the Calhoun County Commission.

Lawmakers put $220 million in the state budget for storm-recovery. There’s another $7 million 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. We can’t let that happen,” said Weatherford.
“It’s meaningful progress that we are making, a day at a time. Today is a lot better than it was 364 days ago, and it’ll get better. But, it’s a five-year plan,” said Bense.

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