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2 years after Hurricane Michael, Florida Panhandle still taking slow steps toward recovery

APTOPIX Tropical Weather Florida
APTOPIX Tropical Weather
APTOPIX Tropical Weather
Posted at 4:34 PM, Oct 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-09 16:42:28-04

FLORIDA (WTXL) — Saturday, October 10, marks the second anniversary of Hurricane Michael’s landfall as a brutal Category 5 storm.

With peak winds of more than 160 mph, the storm made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida around 12:30 p.m., becoming the first and strongest storm on record to make landfall in the region as a Category 5 hurricane.

In it's wake, Tyndall Air Force Base was extensively damaged, thousands were rendered homeless, schools were destroyed, hundreds of businesses were shuttered, and hundreds of thousands of acres of agricultural and timber land were wiped out.

At least 74 deaths were attributed to the storm: 59 in the United States and 15 in Central America. Fifty of those deaths occurred in Florida, with two happening here locally in Gadsden and Jackson counties.

In terms of wind velocity, Michael is tied with the San Felipe Hurricane of 1928 as the fourth strongest hurricane to strike the United States (including Puerto Rico) since 1900, behind the Labor Day Hurricane (1935), Camille (1969), and Andrew (1992).

Additionally, Michael's Oct. 10 landfall marks the latest date of a Category 5 hurricane landfall in the United States.

Michael is estimated to have caused approximately $25 billion in hurricane-related damage, according to an analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Two years later, Florida Panhandle is slowly, but surely recovering. But one local organization says the path to recovery is far from over.

“The storm itself was traumatic, but that trauma has been compounded by a painfully slow recovery,” said Allan Bense, Co-Chair of Rebuild 850 and a former Speaker of the Florida House of Representative. “We’ve made progress, but there is still a long, long way to go.”

The nonprofit, all-volunteer organization is calling for the continued donations, tourism visits, and investment in the Panhandle region.

“Recovery from a devastating storm like Hurricane Michael is not a sprint -- it’s a marathon,” Former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said. “Even as we deal with new disasters like Hurricanes Sally and Delta, our leaders and our residents need to continue to provide the support that will allow the Panhandle to fully recover and avoid a death spiral. Without a continued focus, the economic fallout could last for generations.”

On the eve of the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Michael’s historic landfall, First Lady Casey DeSantis announced that counties still rebuilding from Hurricane Michael, including Franklin and Jackson counties, will be receiving an additional $5.2 million to support continuing efforts to expand telemental health services and rebuild early education facilities.

"With this new funding, we are helping to ensure that our youngest children – who without a doubt have been impacted by the trauma their parents, siblings and neighbors have endured – get the support they need to recover and get back to school and normal lives," said Casey DeSantis.

Since January 2019, the Florida's Division of Emergency Management has paid out more than $831 million for Hurricane Michael recovery.