PANAMA CITY, FL (WSPA) – It was a storm that brought devastation to the Florida Panhandle in early October. Hurricane Michael quickly went from a weekend tropical depression to a powerful Category 4 hurricane when it came ashore Wednesday Morning near Mexico Beach.
“We decided to stay because I’m from Florida from Panama City this is my home,” said Brittany Cole, “We are not in an evacuation zone, not near the coast, and this is normally a safe area.”
Cole rode out this storm in her home inside a bathroom with her grandmother, mother and three year old daughter while her husband and grandfather attempted to keep them safe.
“My grandfather took the back door and basically held the door shut while the wind was trying to blow them in,” Cole said.
Michael was the most powerful hurricane to hit the panhandle with 155 mph winds that many longtime residents did evacuate ahead of landfall.
“We came here after Opal you know and saw what it did to 98 and I didn’t want to go through that and it kept increasing in intensity so we knew it was going to be a strong one,” said Sara Buffington who lives on Mexico Beach.
But after the storm passed, those residents didn’t know the destruction that they would be returning home to see.
“When we left thought small hurricane we’d come back have a little water damage a little wind damage, we didn’t expect this not just for our family but its just devastating for the whole community,” said Danny Hollon who lost two homes on Mexico Beach.
Whole homes were pushed off their foundations, roads eroded and a lifetime of work gone by the strength of Mother Nature.
“It’s devastating honey its devastating, a lot of people have moved here recently and built new homes and they are our age and to them they’ve probably lost everything, their life’s work,” Buffington said.
Mexico Beach, which is known for being a quaint beach town, took the worst of storm.
“No, I don’t have words to describe it, its just heartbreaking its just gone just like a piece of you is just gone,” Hollon said.
The death toll for the storm in the state of Florida has reached 35 people, and not everyone who survived is planning to stay.
“They are so traumatized and in shock they’ll probably go elsewhere because a lot of them are like us they are seniors,” Buffington said.
With a high senior population, residents were worried that too many people would leave and it wouldn’t come back.
“When the whole home is destroyed you don’t really have much choice,” Buffington said.
But those that are left have high spirits and hope that they can rebuild the area if they work together.
“We’ll rebuild and come back strong,” Hollon said.
That rebuilding process already is underway as hundreds if not thousands of volunteers from various agencies from across the nation arrive in the panhandle to help them get back on their feet.
From the Upstate, Dave Goodman and his wife spent ten days volunteering in the area with the American Red Cross.
“The biggest problem for the community was with no power no water and a lot of places no ability to get around on the roads because they were covered with debris it was hard to get to them at first,” Goodman said.
But he wasn’t alone Anderson County resident Timothy Condrey traveled to the panhandle to work as a paramedic as part of the National Disaster Medical Assistance Team. The system has 70 response teams that are made up of 5,000 physicians, nurses, veterinary staff, paramedics and command staff who volunteer to help during the worst disasters.
“Human life, human life deserves the chance to flourish and just the overall reward to help someone even with a smile or a little bit of medical training I had,” Condrey said.
Both of these volunteers tell 7News that the spirit of hope is alive in the community as they look towards the future.
“You really develop a love for our country, the citizens who live here and instills a desire in us to serve to help people,” Goodman said.
But the one thing all the residents 7News spoke to said they hope that the nation doesn’t forget them as time passes after the storm. The volunteers have started to leave, but this is just the beginning of the rebuilding process.
“We take it one day at a time, we are going to just keep going forward,” said Crystal Grizzle who lives in Panama City.
If you want to donate to the relief efforts to help rebuild the panhandle of Florida you can click here to make Hurricane Donations with the American Red Cross.