After the devastation from Hurricane Michael, at least one community is moving forward with recovery. Wakulla County is taking steps to put the storm and its effects behind them.
“We are doing distribution from here to counties west of us because with power out over there, some places with no running water, lack of fuel, those folks need help and we have the capacity right now to provide that help, so we’re doing that.”
A people-to-people effort of relief has commenced around the Florida Panhandle. Donations continue to pour into organizations like the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Science. Extension Agent Rachel Pienta says the Wakulla distribution site is supplying surrounding areas with relief.
“So at this distribution site right now, we are a collection point for Hurricane Michael relief and we are getting relief from inside the county and outside of the county. Donations are pouring in and people want to help somehow. Hurricane Michael was a huge historic storm, and it impacted counties across the Panhandle.”
Hurricane Michael is the first Category 4 storm to hit the Panhandle. And it’s one of the top four most damaging hurricanes to make landfall in the history of the United States – surpassing Category 3 Hurricane Opal, which hit Pensacola in 1995.
“We’ve had hurricanes hit Florida before. We haven’t had a hurricane like this hit the Panhandle in many many years, and communities that a lot of us love to visit, have families in, have been devastated. So, the relief effort has been tremendous because people want to help.”
Although the storm’s force left thousands of residents powerless and buried under rubble and debris up and down the coast, Wakulla County has been able to recover faster than other communities. Here, it was not wind, but rather water that caused the most damage due to storm surge, and the area has largely dried out. Now donations are being sent to smaller communities to the west that were not as lucky. Volunteers are driving trucks and trailers filled with clothes, food and toiletries to rural communities to make sure basic needs are being met.
“We’re going into the small communities. A lot of the impact is in very rural North Florida Panhandle areas, where it’s a small town, and its miles from I-10 and its miles from a central distribution point and the infrastructure has been impacted to the point where roads haven’t been cleared. The power grid has not been reactivated; we have places that won’t have power for 30 days.”
With the help of volunteers, IFAS hopes to continue to serve all counties who are still struggling from the storm.
“Gadsden County, Gulf County, Franklin County, Bay County, Washington County, Liberty County, Calhoun, we have. If we get a phone call from a church, mayor of some small town, another UF IFAS office, county governments, different chambers of commerce, we say okay, what is your need, where are you and we try to get a truck out there.”