About 100 volunteers helped clean up neglected grave sites in Panama City on Saturday, as part of the city's first cemetery cleanup day since Hurricane Michael.
“If you have a grave site and you wish to be buried, I believe that your site should be cleaned and respected upon,” said Ethan Davison, a sophomore at A. Crawford Mosley High School. “That’s what I’m trying to do out here today.”
Davison was among several other high school students, who were part of the Army Junior ROTC program, raking leaves, pulling weeds and straightening headstones at Oakland Cemetery’s cleanup.
Before Hurricane Michael, the city held volunteer cemetery cleanup days twice a year. Many of the gravesites that volunteers clean at the events wouldn’t otherwise receive care, said Ty Farris, senior manager of the city's Quality of Life department.
“So many of these families have moved on or passed,” he said. “In some of our older cemeteries, some of these plots aren’t being maintained by anybody.”
The cleanups were stalled after the hurricane to give the city time to clear the debris, Farris said.
“Just over the last two weeks or so, many of the stumps have finally been removed. We had to wait on FEMA to help coordinate much of this.” he said. “We have some parks that still aren’t online yet just because of the trees and the debris.”
About 10 city parks still need additional work, Farris said.
Quality of Life employees will soon begin planting grass throughout the cemeteries, Farris said. City officials are also seeking FEMA funding to repair broken headstones and damaged gravesites.
“The effort it would take to locate the family would probably be difficult. So, we’ve reached out to FEMA,” Farris said. “Some of these are historic preservation issues. There’s one or two vaults that were punctured after the storm, so those would have to be treated a different way, as well.”