Hurricane Michael taking its toll outside of Leon County

Goodwin's Jackson County home damaged and covered with trees due to Hurricane Michael.
Photo Submitted by Patrick Goodwin.

With Hurricane Michael having swept through the Florida Panhandle three weeks ago, Leon County is back up and running. The question that isn’t being asked is, “What about surrounding counties?”

Gadsden and Jackson Counties are two rural counties in the Florida Panhandle with cities that are amongst the states’ more impoverished areas. Roughly, 50 percent of power poles in Gadsden County were either blown down by Hurricane Michael’s forceful winds or snapped in half due to the weight of the trees falling on power lines. Gadsden County native Brenda J. Thompson was without electricity for almost two weeks.

“I really think Michael was an eye-opener, as well as, a learning experience for Gadsden County,” Thompson said. “For once, we all came together to help each other without having social class and racial issues. Everyone was in the same condition and all we could do is help each other.”

Thompson’s mother lives alone. According to her, Sheriff Morris Young and Quincy Mayor Angela Sapp personally reached out to residents days prior to Michael and days after via text to check on their well being.

“Mayor and Sheriff provided updated information via text when the power would be restored and workers to help assist my mom with cleaning up yards and trees,” Thompson said. “Our power was restored at last!”

Thompson’s great fortune has not passed to Jackson County yet as Sneads resident Patrick Goodwin said he and his family have been told that they will be without power for the next two months.

“Two trees fell on our house during the storm while we were inside. One tree was so heavy that it cracked the foundation of the house,” Goodwin said. “We’ve spent over $2,000 dollars on three generators for our family of four.”

Goodwin said the trees also stripped the power line right out of their home, which caused electrical damage that could cost thousands of dollars when combined with the holes in the roof and the shifted foundation. He is currently living with his best friend, but Goodwin’s mother is considering moving out of the home altogether.

“FEMA instantly denied my mother and my stepdad because they make too much money,” Goodwin said. “The process is moving really slow in this area and I don’t know why.”

Goodwin sees an increase in utility trucks since Leon County’s power has mostly restored but said many power lines and trees from Sneads to Marianna are still scattered along the highway. His family washes their clothes at the local laundromat, which is almost always full, and they dry the clothes at his best friend’s apartment complex.

“I want people to know that we are strong individuals and we are making it day by day,” Goodwin said. We just got to stay prayed up during times like this.”

After a majority of the power was restored in Gadsden County, it was time for school to start once again. Superintendent Roger P. Milton of Gadsden County said that when school finally convened Oct. 22, nearly two weeks after Hurricane Michael made landfall, about 30 percent of students, faculty and staff were still without power.

“Currently we have 90 percent of our students back in school and we still have some people without power,” Milton said. “We’re trying to figure out if some of them relocated or what are the barriers that are preventing them from coming back.”

Milton then expressed how Michael took a toll on students’ ability to focus in class. He also said that social workers and mental health counselors have been present more at schools.

“In the scheme of things we’re fortunate. We’re blessed. [Hurricane Michael] has really brought us together,” Milton said. “I’m just hoping that now that the storm has passed these efforts and this sense of community isn’t just for a season.”