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Eastpoint Among Big Bend Areas Grappling With Power Outages

Ryan Dailey

Emergency officials continue to fight obstacles as they bring relief to hard-hit areas like Panama City and Mexico Beach. To the east, some towns on the fringe of the worst destruction are struggling after days without power.

Hurricane Michael left huge swaths of the Big Bend in the dark, and in some cases restoration is projected to take weeks. On Friday, residents of Franklin County’s Eastpoint community were just beginning to run low on food supplies. Big Top Super Market was the first store to get some power back from generators. Kenneth Shiver, Big Top’s owner, held a free barbecue using some of the last of its meat.

"We had some chicken that we cooked for people so they can come get a hot meal, instead of having sandwiches and stuff," Shiver said as residents lined up for a free meal.

But the small supermarket, which sits just yards from the coastline, didn’t make it through the storm totally unscathed.

"The business got like three inches of water in it," Shiver recounted. "This ice chest floated all the way over here, and it’s full of ice. And I had the other ice chest sitting behind the post office back there."

Still, opening as the only viable option for food and drink in the area made Big Top a lifeline. Ronald Custer is a lifelong Eastpoint resident who rode out the storm, like many of his neighbors.

"Yeah it was scary, it was scary. First time I ever been scared. Fearing for my life and all the people that stay here with me," Custer said.

By day three of Eastpoint’s power outage, Custer’s resources were already dwindling.

"The food’s getting low, the water’s getting low," Custer said.

Another Eastpoint resident, who goes by the name Padge, was picking up a meal with his son. Padge, like many at the barbecue, said his home didn’t sustain too much damage.

"The house faired okay. The whole no power – that’s the bad part. Thank God we got our water back on, we can be thankful for that," Padge said.

Credit Ryan Dailey / WFSU-FM
Eastpoint residents line up at Big Top Super Market, which is grilling up a free lunch for community Friday, October 12, 2018

But it isn’t just residential damage that present problems after a hurricane. Padge said he had been cut off from getting to work until Friday because of blocked roads.

"I’ve got to go to work tonight at the State – I work for Gov. corrections – and three roofs off our compound got ripped off," Padge said.

And, some of Padge's loved ones who live closer to the coastline didn’t fare as well.

"My parents live right on the water and they lost the bottom part of their house." Padge said, adding he has since been in contact with his parents, who are safe. "I went by their house the other day, actually yesterday, I’ve been going by there checking on them. It’s a little surreal, you’ll be going out walking up their driveway, and you’ll find a picture that you’ve seen before and you’ll be like ‘Oh, I remember that.’ And it’s out in the yard floating wet. And you start walking away and find another picture. There’s just so much stuff you can’t absorb it all in at one time."

This is the second disaster to strike the town this year. In June, Eastpoint grappled with recovering from a fire that scorched more than 800 acres, destroyed dozens of homes and left hundreds displaced. Donna Poulos was volunteering at Big Top’s barbecue. She says the hurricane is nothing her town can’t rebound from:

"I mean it’s just a setback, this is. But we’ll overcome it again ... I just love helping people, and seeing their smiles. People really are thankful here, and I’m thankful for that."

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.