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'They Lost Everything': Neighboring Liberty, Calhoun Counties Look To Rebuild

This antique store in Blountstown was severely damaged by Hurricane Michael. (October 2018)
Ryan Dailey

Panhandle Counties ravaged by Hurricane Michael are trying to rebuild, with many still waiting for power. Liberty and Calhoun counties are neighboring areas both dealing with their own challenges.

Jamie White has lived in the city of Bristol, situated in Northwest Liberty County, her whole life. But she rode out the storm in nearby Hosford.

“There was limbs falling everywhere and it scared me for a second. Because I’ve got anxiety, so it worked my anxiety up pretty much,” White said. “But when we came home that morning to see everything, it was just so devastating. Looking at our little town, and it just took on so much, and it was just so unexpected.”

Thursday was White and her family’s ninth day without power.

At the Liberty County Emergency Operations Center, outside help was brought in to manage recovery efforts. Ken Parks, an incident commander from Montana, flew in the day after the storm.

“So we’re still hovering around 60 to 70 percent without power at this time. We’ve slowly been increasing that number,” Parks said. “But we’re looking for sort of a large surge you could say, starting on Friday night, possibly Saturday morning when several power transformers and things are going into place and we’ll get a large number of people getting power at that point.”

Parks says emergency officials in Liberty have had to put out some fires stemming from mishaps as power is turned back on.

“We had several fires occur from people having their stoves on and then they had stacked stuff on the stove because it wasn’t being used – and then those things ignited and caused some house fires,” Parks said.

Credit Ryan Dailey / WFSU-FM
At Liberty County High, the booth to call games at Bulldog Field was blown off its tower and sitting behind the bleachers.

With much of the county still without power, food options have been scarce. Clair Martin, who works with Christian Aid Ministries, drove straight to Florida with a caravan of volunteers the day Michael hit. They sing hymns as they give out food at Bristol Christian Church.

“There’s a lot of elderly people who don’t have power for their oxygen and all the different needs they have,” Martin said. “We see so much of that, where … electric’s a big deal. And when that goes, we just lose so much.”

After the interview, Martin said he was going to offer condolences to a Bristol resident who lost her husband for that very reason.

“As a matter of fact, after we’re done I’m going to the funeral. And she lost her husband because he needed pacemaker help, and couldn’t get it because it wasn’t an emergency. And he was an elderly gentleman, passed away,” Martin said.

Blountstown is in Calhoun County, just over the border from Liberty. There, residents have banded together to help feed each other. Between using their own food and resources and stretching the outside help that’s come in, they’ve managed to have hot meals each day.

Steve Bailey is a former Blountstown City Council Member, who has been up at the crack of dawn every day since the storm helping organize feeding his community.

“We actually have McDonald’s opened up, one restaurant and a deli here in town and all, but the people we’re feeding – they don’t have the dollars to go to those stores and buy food right now. They’re broke, I mean lost everything,” Bailey said.

Bailey adds at first, the only food to be had came from the residents themselves.

“We brought it in 12 hours after the storm I guess, and started feeding people before anybody else could get here. And pretty much what we fed the first three days was people’s freezers - stuff that was going to ruin anyway. So we had fish and deer and wild hog, all that stuff. Now we’re starting to get donations of beef and pork in that we’re able to cook for everybody.”

As Liberty County makes headway getting power back a county over, Bailey says Calhoun anticipates a longer wait.

“We lost 100 percent of our grid in Blountstown. Our transmission lines are gonna be at least another week getting here – when we do crank up here we should have 15, 20 percent of our grid up by then, thanks to all these guys who come in form out of town and help us,” Bailey said.

Bailey fears the more than $1 billion dollars in timber loss in the region will bring closed plants and jobs lost. But right now, watching his neighbors come together has changed his perspective:

“You know I’m not going to bring religion into this – but I haven’t seen God in the church for a long time, I’ve seen him on this corner for a week now, a solid week.”