Florida residents dealing with the fallout of Hurricane Michael, which slammed into the state just shy of a Category 5 storm, are largely fending for themselves, according to several news reports.
> Since the storm, there’s been no electricity and no water in Panama City. Emergency disaster relief was yet to be seen in strength as of Saturday morning and residents were growing more frustrated and desperate.
> Chantelle Goolspy sat in her car making phone calls to get help. Goolspy and many of her neighbors live in a public housing area in downtown Panama City that was badly devastated.
> “We’re in need of food, water, anything, we’re not getting any help. The whole street needs help,” Goolspy told the Red Cross. “[Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)] referred me to you. That person told me to call 211.”
What help has arrived has been community oriented, with people coming in to help from other areas in Florida and even from other states.
> [Barbara] Sanders said that not a single relief agency had come by to check on them. Only the police had come and it was to tell everyone to leave. “They told us there’s nothing they can do and it’s gonna take a long time to rebuild,” Sanders said.
> Just then a pick-up truck arrived with water. It was the first help this neighborhood had received and it turned out to be two brothers—Chris and Brendon Hill, from Louisiana—who had decided to come and help.
> In neighboring Panama City Beach, city manager Mario Gisbert wasn’t going to wait for federal emergency assistance. Volunteers from Florida and other states brought water, set up a food kitchen for police, and prepared 1,500 meals for locals. A local church is preparing to distribute meals at 15 stations in Panama City.
> “The American people are helping us,” Gisbert said. “FEMA will eventually come into the game and get the accolades in six months.”
Meanwhile, The Hill reports that FEMA Administrator Brock Long took time on Friday to criticize those residents who failed to evacuate before the hurricane hit.
> “It’s frustrating to us because we repeat this same cycle over and over again,” Long said during press briefing. “If you want to live in these areas, you’ve got to do it in a more resilient fashion.”
> Hurricane Michael barreled into the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday afternoon, bringing sustained winds of more than 150 miles per hour and deadly levels of flooding.
> “So how do we build a culture of preparedness?” Long asked. “FEMA tries to do it every year but a lot of people don’t pay attention to anything that we do or say when it is a blue sky day and nothing is happening.”
On the ground in Florida, officials said they are still in rescue mode and it will be some time before they shift focus to the widespread supply of food and water.
> Federal, state, and local officials were hunkered down at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) set up at Gulf Coast State College in Lynn Haven, trying to get urgently needed food and water to residents. The EOC turned down The Daily Beast’s request to speak with the EOC chief, Mark Bowen, and city officials. Spokesperson Catie Feenie said the focus was on “coordinating some patrols who are in life-saving mode” for the 60,000 residents who had not evacuated before the hurricane, like Goolspy and Sanders.
> “We’re telling everybody to save [food and water] because it will be days before we’re ready to do that,” Feenie said.