Hurricane Michael

A year after Hurricane Michael slammed Florida's panhandle, communities there are struggling, and rebuilding is slow. With housing devastated, local governments are being forced to raise property tax rates to pay for high recovery costs, and a severe housing shortage has caused many, to temporarily leave the area.

A high school marching band greeted shoppers and paraded through the store when a Winn-Dixie supermarket reopened recently. Businesses have been slow to reopen since Hurricane Michael, in part because there aren't enough workers.

As another hurricane season begins, emergency managers and other officials throughout the Southeast and along the Gulf Coast are applying lessons they learned last year during Hurricane Michael. Those lessons include how they conduct evacuations.

When Hurricane Michael struck the Panhandle of Florida last October, Keith and Susan Koppelman were huddled in the bathroom of their small, two-bedroom rental trailer just north of Panama City.

"When the winds came we both started praying," says Keith, 49. "I thought, 'Oh my God, this is a big storm.' "

After four hours, they finally emerged to survey the damage. The storm's 160-mile-per-hour winds had torn off the porch and peeled away the trailer's tin siding.

President Trump will hold his first 2020 Florida political rally since the 2018 elections on Wednesday, and he's doing it in the Panhandle, the heart of his base in the state.

But the region is facing setbacks because of a federal funding shortfall after Hurricane Michael last fall that threatens to dampen enthusiasm.

As Bay County Supervisor of Elections Mark Andersen walks around the second floor of his office in Panama City, Fla., he points up at a makeshift ceiling of tarp and plywood.

"From that wall right there, all the way over, all the wood there, that all just got put on," he says.

Andersen is the supervisor of elections for Bay County, Fla., the county most ravaged earlier this month by Hurricane Michael. Andersen was in the elections office two weeks ago, one floor below this spot, when 130-mile-an-hour winds ripped off the building's roof.

More than a week after Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida panhandle, cities and towns are facing the daunting task of trying to rebuild. The recovery is hampered by catastrophic damage not only to homes and businesses, but to vital infrastructure as well.

The small Gulf coast town of Port St. Joe, with a population of about 3,500 residents, is one of countless communities that was hit by the storm.

"Everywhere you turn and go you see some kind of destruction," says the town's mayor, Bo Patterson. "Whether it was wind damage, whether it was water, one of the two."

Brock Long was frustrated. Yet again, the FEMA administrator said, people in the path of a powerful hurricane had ignored evacuation orders.

Hurricane Michael had leveled the small Florida city of Mexico Beach and destroyed large parts of nearby Panama City. The death count was rising as search and rescue workers pulled bodies from the rubble.

In Mexico Beach, Fla., Lance Erwin is one of the lucky ones. His house is still standing. He stayed in his home during Hurricane Michael, several blocks from the beach, in a part of his house that he calls his "safe room."

"The garage door was shaking," he says. "I knew the roof was gone at that point because everything was shaking. I thought, 'Just hang in there.' I had faith everything was going to be OK."

Analysts are estimating that Hurricane Michael has caused billions of dollars of damage and will create a substantial loss for insurers, but the industry is expected to cope — once again avoiding the kind of meltdown that Florida saw in the 1990s, after Hurricane Andrew.

Updated at 2:20 p.m. ET

At least 11 people have died from Hurricane Michael, which slammed into Florida's Panhandle with 155-mph winds on Wednesday. The storm hacked a trail of catastrophic destruction in Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia before finally heading back out over water.

Five deaths were reported in Virginia, in addition to four in Florida, one in Georgia and one in North Carolina.

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