Residents of the Florida panhandle are beginning to understand how the people of Puerto Rico felt last year after Hurricane Maria devasted that island. In the wake of the disaster brought by Hurricane Michael, people in the area around the hardest hit portions of the state near Panama City have yet to see emergency relief efforts reach them in any noticeable strength as of this morning, according to The Daily Beast.
The citizens still stuck in the area are growing increasingly desperate and frustrated, while the head of FEMA gives news conferences blaming the victims for not evacuating quickly enough or being better prepared for the storm and its consequences.
The Daily Beast recounted the stories of several local residents seeking assistance in a landscape littered with the debris from thousands of destroyed homes and devoid of electricity, communications services, and potable water.
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“Chantell Goolspy sat in her car making phone calls to get help. Goolspy and many of her neighbors live in a public housing area in downtown Panama City that was badly devastated,” The Daily Beast writes.
“’We’re in need of food, water, anything, we’re not getting any help. The whole street needs help,’ Goolspy told the Red Cross. ‘FEMA referred me to you. That person told me to call 211.’”
“Down the street, Barbara Sanders stood outside her daughter’s unit where she had come to stay during the hurricane.”
“’We’re not getting any help,’ she said. ‘We need food. It’s just crazy.’”
“Sanders said not a single relief agency had come by to check on them. Only the police had come and it was to tell everyone to leave. ‘They told us there’s nothing they can do and it’s gonna take a long time to rebuild,’ Sanders said.
Shortly after Sanders spoke to the reporter, the first assistance arrived in their neighborhood. A pick-up truck carrying much-needed water arrived, but it was not part of a FEMA or state effort to assist the survivors of the calamity. Instead, it was the individual mission of two Louisiana brothers, Chris and Brendon Hill, who took it upon themselves to become angels of mercy for the devastated victims of Michael.
Mario Gisbert, the City Manager of Panama City Beach, a neighboring town, was smart enough to know that waiting for help from FEMA was a fruitless endeavor. Gathering together volunteers from Florida and other states he helped coordinate setting up water distribution and food preparation for up to 1,500 locals. Churches in the vicinity have also helped with feeding hungry survivors and emergency personnel.
“The American people are helping us,” Gisbert told The Daily Beast. “FEMA will eventually come into the game and get the accolades in six months.”
Officials from FEMA were working with state and local authorities further inland at the Emergency Operations Center in Lynne Haven, attempting to coordinate “some patrols who are in life-saving mode” for those approximately 60,000 residents who had not evacuated before the hurricane.
“We’re telling everybody to save [food and water] because it will be days before we’re ready to do that,” a spokespereson for the EOC said.
It was not just the coastal communities that were suffering without the needed emergency aid. The rural areas around the state capital in Tallahassee in Gadsden County where Hurricane Michael killed four people were in a dire situation as well. Gadsden County commissioner Anthony Viegbesie told The Daily Beast that he had not seen signs of a single relief agency in the area.
“This is a community that lives on agriculture. Without electricity, the wells don’t work,” he said. “We survive primitively.”
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