Gadsden County still recovering from hurricane

Debris remains piled high along US Highway 27 in Havana.
Photo Submitted by Julious Lowe.

HAVANA – I’m from Havana in northeastern Gadsden County. We’re so close to Tallahassee and Leon County it’s not funny. You can get to my town in a mere 10 minutes driving up North Monroe Street from the I10 exit.

But as close as Gadsden and Leon counties are – and they hug each other – they are two different worlds. That was never more true than on Oct.10, when Gadsden County was devastated by the worst storm to ever hit this county since Hurricane Kate in 1985.  The devastation caused by Michael was on a far greater scale.

Hurricane Michael hit us hard because its rapid intensification caught us in a way we’ve never been caught before. What we initially thought would be only a Category 2 or 3 hurricane, eventually became a devastating Category 4 storm.

“We like to tell people to prepare for one category higher. So, we were preparing a lot of our partners for a Cat 4 hurricane, even though it was only forecast to maybe a two or three. We want people to be prepared in case it gets worse. Michael was a perfect example of that actually happening,” said Lauren Nash, a National Weather Service meteorologist, told WTXL news.

After the storm passed through, an entire region was left reeling. Trees and limbs were piled everywhere in sight, homes were either destroyed or damaged, businesses and schools had structural damage, and the entire county was plunged into darkness for the next month.

“I can't say we were actually ready for something like that, because no one can really be ready for something of that magnitude, but we were here to put forth every effort with our search and rescue and to aid the citizens in Gadsden County,” Anglie Hightower, the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer, told WTXL TV.

But in this county’s darkest hour, other counties reached out to lend a helping hand. Linemen from across the states came to restore power to the county. Salvation Army and the American Red Cross provided food while Second Harvest provided MREs, water, snacks, and non-perishable items to families in need. Schools from outside the county provided supplies and meals for Gadsden County students and their families. And people from across the state and country all pitched in to help get Gadsden County back on its feet.

“It has truly been a blessing. There has been so much devastation throughout our region that there weren’t enough resources here to get the job done. In fact, the company that came here to my neighborhood was actually from Missouri. And they got here when we had been without power for about 9-10 days. So for them to be the individuals to come and help my community, it was truly a blessing,” Officer Terry Williams, Reserve Deputy for the Gadsden County Sherriff’s Office, said.

“Now I understand that there are those that may say: ‘Well, they’re only doing this for the money.’ I don’t care, I’m just glad they came. Because if they hadn’t come, I don’t know how much longer I or my community of about 387 families would have been without power.”

There’s still plenty of work to be done as far as getting my county back at full strength. Insurance losses in Florida have reached $4.01 billion with 129,876 claims filed. With 5,472 of those claims coming from Gadsden County, this means it could be a long time before everyone in the county is fully reimbursed from the storm.

Organizations like FEMA, The Federal Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and others are doing all they can to assist those in need, but one has to wonder if even that will be enough at this point.

“Basically, we’re a poor county and were being continually caught in a situation where we can’t address issues because we don’t have the necessary funding. A lot of things go unresolved because we haven’t prepared ourselves. And we’re not creating funding opportunities like bringing more jobs to our community,” Larry D. Simmons Sr, an Outreach Specialist from Gadsden County, said.

Michael was a storm like no other, the likes of which I think we all pray we never see again. But more than anything else, I think it’s taught us never to underestimate the devastation a seemingly small storm can cause. What may seem like a just another storm can end up being a horrific nightmare, with devastating effects.