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Building Tomorrow - The forgotten hurricane
A city that is healing. Years after Hurricane Michael, Panama City in Florida is still under reconstruction.

The recovery of the Florida panhandle

Rebuilding a city

The Forgotten Hurricane

Hurricanes show no mercy. Hurricane Michael was no exception when it reached Panama City, Florida, in October, 2018. Almost two years later, the recovery work is still ongoing and helping hands are much-needed. In a joint effort to support the local community, Volvo CE and dealer Cowin Equipment are teaming up with Habitat for Humanity to rebuild homes.

If you search ‘Panama City, Florida’ on Google Images, you end up with two sides of one coin. The majority of the pictures show a town that is still in ruins after Hurricane Michael smashed buildings to splinters, tore off roofs and sent trees careening through walls. It still seems to be a city haunted by the devastation that the hurricane brought almost two years ago. On the other hand, both new and old photos and advertisements show a sunnier side. The beautiful beaches here are known world-wide. The fishing is excellent. Panama City is very much a beloved destination.

Building Tomorrow - The forgotten hurricane
Situated by the coast, Panama City has always been loved by both tourists and locals.

But that majority of the pictures haunt you. To understand the situation as it is now, one needs to go back to those October days in 2018 and take a closer look at actually happened.

“The hurricane actually developed very quickly, before it hit land. It was a Category 2 and increased to a 5 in just half a day,” tells Lance Rettig, Executive Director, Habitat for Humanity of Bay County. Habitat for Humanity is a leading global nonprofit, with a long tradition of partnering with families and individuals in need of affordable housing.

Many families didn’t evacuate since it didn’t seem like winds would be that strong. Also, this community in Florida that experiences hurricanes almost annually, is a tough one. But the hurricane did strike, and it struck hard.

“A majority of the buildings in the not-so-affluent areas were older, from the 20’s or 30’s. Those couldn’t withstand the winds and water as well as the newer ones,” says Lance Rettig.

Building Tomorrow - The forgotten hurricane
Lance Rettig, Agency Director at Habitat for Humanity, a non profit organization that rebuilds homes for those in need.

On October 7, 2018, Michael became a hurricane with peak winds eventually reaching 160 mph (260 km/h). Thousands of people in the city wathched their homes destroyed by water, falling trees and strong winds. Nearly two years later, the recovery work is still ongoing. Why? Shouldn’t the job be done by now? In the media, Hurricane Michael has often been called the “forgotten hurricane.”

“We were sandwiched between a couple of other events. One was Hurricane Florence, others were political events and some other disasters, like the wildfires in California. People came down to help in the first months, but then it slowly was more or less forgotten,” says Lance Rettig.

Building Tomorrow - The forgotten hurricane
Hurricane Michael hit large parts of the city hard.

A random Google search, two years later, therefore still serves up images of wrecked homes. The need for restoration and rebuilding is still very high. Federal money has been granted to the city, but the work is still happening at a slow pace. That is why Volvo CE, along with its dealers and employees, decided to partner with Habitat for Humanity to help with rebuilding efforts, and they now build homes alongside families in need of affordable housing in the Panama City area. The future homeowners themselves invest their sweat equity, volunteering on the build and paying an affordable mortgage for the homes they purchase.

Randy Rockwell, Vice President of Sales from Volvo CE dealer Cowin Equipment points out that it was an easy decision to join in.

“Giving back to the community is important for us, and we are just happy to help. Most of our guys coming over from Cowin live on the Gulf Coast, so we have experienced hurricanes, we understand what that is about,” he says.

Margot Gorman is one of the volunteers from Volvo CE. She is happy to pitch in with what she can: “I’m very glad to be here, I only wish that I could do more. I think it is very important to reach out a hand as an individual, and also as a company. “

Short about Hurricane Michael
Every year, hurricanes hit the coasts of Florida and the southeastern U.S (the Gulf Coast region). Hurricane Michael hit Panama City, Florida with great force in the fall of 2018. Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated in advance and were forced to stand helpless while their homes were lost to the hurricane. Michael was the first Category 5 – the highest category of the Saffir-Simpson scale – in the United States since 1992, when Hurricane Andrew struck. It became a tropical hurricane on October 7 and went on for over a week. It hit a vast area, including not only the Gulf Coast region, but also Honduras, Cuba, Nicaragua and El Salvador. The restorations are still ongoing in those areas and building homes for the people who lost everything is one important part of the work.
 
Sources: weather.gov, Wikipedia

Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale
The scale classifies hurricanes – Western Hemisphere tropical cyclones that exceed the intensities of tropical depressions and tropical storms - into five categories, distinguished by the intensities of their sustained winds. Hurricane Michael was a Category 5.

Source: The National Hurricane Center and Central Pacific Hurricane Center

Effects on society (U.S. and Central America)

74
Deaths attributed to the storm
1.3 million
Homes and businesses without power during the hurricane
4.7 billion dollars
Estimated cost of the reconstruction
60,000
Estimated number of homes destroyed
25 billion dollars
Estimated amount in damages

Panama City was one of the hardest struck cities in the Gulf Coast region. Numerous businesses in nearby Panama City sustained major structural damage or were destroyed by violent winds. Many restaurants, gas stations, shopping centers, office buildings, retail stores, and hotels were completely leveled. In residential areas, homes and apartment buildings lost their roofs and exterior walls, and many trees were toppled, snapped, or completely defoliated. Vehicles were flipped and overturned.

Sources: npr.org, weather.gov

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