(Pictured: Typical street in the Cove section of Panama City)
October 10th, 2018 is a date that residents of the Florida Panhandle will never forget. On this date, Hurricane Michael tore through the region causing unimaginable damage to property and taking at least 39 lives. The Category 4 storm had sustained winds of 155 miles per hour, just shy of a Category 5, and was the strongest hurricane to make landfall in the Florida Panhandle since record keeping began. It was the forth strongest hurricane to hit the US in terms of wind speed, and the third strongest in terms of pressure. The storm was so strong that it was still a Category 3 hurricane when it reached Georgia.
Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe suffered huge losses as the storm surge completely destroyed many beachfront structures, including many homes and businesses blocks from the beaches. Large areas of Panama City, Lynn Haven, and Callaway received heavy damage as well. In contrast, Panama City Beach received far less damage as it was just far enough West of the storm’s center and high winds.
Despite the best efforts of recovery workers, life is still difficult for many residents who are still struggling to get power, water, phone & Internet service, and in many cases a new place to call home. Fallen trees, collapsed houses, crashed utilities poles, and flipped cars and trucks are everywhere.
Pictured: Georgia Power working with Gulf Power to restore service. Photo courtesy of Gulf Power.
The utility companies, particularly Gulf Power, are to be commended for their enormous effort to restore power throughout the region. In the days and weeks after the storm, thousands of utility trucks and personnel were everywhere. Gulf Power helped coordinate a massive response that included power company resources from 15 states including Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, with some as far Kentucky, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Ohio. The rate at which power is being restored is truly remarkable given the extent of the damage. As of October 23rd, Gulf Power estimates that it has restored power to 95% of all customers who were able to safely take power.
Perhaps more than anything, communications have been a major challenge. Cell and Internet service has been nonexistent for more than half the population and is only recently coming back online. Verizon towers suffered what representatives are now calling “unprecedented” damage as virtually all of the fiber to their towers resided on power poles that were fallen by the storm. However, AT&T’s cellular service suffered only minor damage since they had fortunately buried the fiber to their towers. For this reason, AT&T has been one of the real heroes for many. Customers and their loved ones were left frustrated by a lack of cell service which proved dangerous for people who needed to call for help and check on family members. Verizon eventually brought in mobile hotspots and has since provided 3-months of free service to its customers throughout the region.
Hurricane Michael helped all of us realized how technology has become such an essential part of our daily lives. Without cell and Internet service many of us are unable to function and feel completely cutoff and isolated from our world. Although TechFarms received only minor damage, our fiber connection was disrupted and we were forced to piece together a combination of Internet alternatives including cable and personal cellular hotspots. We have been receiving calls from businesses that need temporary offices with phone and Internet access and we are accommodating as many of them as we can.
There are still many months of hard work to rebuild our communities. The good news is that everyone is working together and most have a positive outlook. We will get through this together.