rainn.png
Wednesday December 11th, 2019 2:53AM

A year after Michael, Florida community still in crisis

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A year after Hurricane Michael , the Florida county hardest hit by the Category 5 storm is still in crisis: Thousands in Bay County are homeless, medical care and housing are at a premium, domestic violence has become a problem and severely diminished mental health services are overwhelmed with backlogs.

Michael, among the strongest hurricanes ever to make landfall in the United States, barreled onto the Florida Panhandle on Oct. 10, 2018, with 160 mph (257 kph) winds, ripping homes from their foundations, flattening others and utterly devastating Tyndall Air Force Base, home to 11,000 airmen. It left 22,000 of Bay County's then-180,000 residents homeless and resulted in total insured losses of almost $7 billion.

This summer, county officials unveiled a nearly 300-page blueprint to rebuild. Among their ideas is to use shipping containers and 3-D technology to build new houses and to offer signing bonuses for doctors to replace those who fled when their offices and equipment were destroyed.

They have their work cut out for them: About 5,000 people are still homeless and rent for the few available living quarters has skyrocketed. About 1 in 6 insurance claims are still unresolved, and local government officials are worried about depleted tax coffers as small businesses struggle to reopen. Bay County schools have lost more than 1 in 8 students, which will affect the amount of state education funding they receive.

"The community at large is suffering from trauma and grief," officials said in their report, released in July. "Citizens are fatigued, tired and anxious."

Teri Powell Hord, whose Panama City neighborhood was blasted by Michael, said haggling with insurance companies and contractors has dragged out the recovery process and is taking its toll on residents' mental health.

"It's frustrating," Hord said.

More people than ever before are in need of mental health services. Such services were fairly limited before Michael hit. Now, officials said in their report, they are "taxed well beyond capacity."

During the past school year alone, 125 students in Bay County schools were placed in custody for a mental health evaluation under Florida's Baker Act. Because the hurricane left standing only one medical center that can receive Baker Act patients, students were sent to facilities as far as 580 miles (933 kms) away.

The school district has a waitlist of 350 students who need mental health services, and the county at large lost 40 percent of its behavioral health specialists after the storm.

"We are in the midst of a mental health crisis here in Bay County," school district officials concluded in a report.

County officials also said they had seen a disturbing amount of domestic violence cases but did not provide details immediately. Health care also has suffered.

Several months after the hurricane, Daniel Steele's fiancee, Rebecca Akins, started having breathing problems that he thinks were caused by storm-related mold in their home outside Panama City. He took her to the damaged hospital, Bay Medical Center, but it had lost its intensive care unit. Akins eventually was taken to a hospital in Pensacola, 140 miles (225 kms) away.

"The hospital was devastated by the storm and there's still no ICU. What's up with that?" Steele said.

One of the county's two hospitals, heavily damaged by the storm, has only about a quarter of the beds it did before.

The Bay County recovery blueprint calls for signing bonuses, slashed taxes and student loan forgiveness to physicians and mental health providers who come to Bay County. It recommends building a new hospital in Panama City Beach, a section of the county largely spared the worst of the damage, and enhancing security during emergencies at clinics that house pharmaceuticals. It also calls for acquiring block housing — a large number of apartments in the same building or trailer park — to house mental health providers.

In August, Florida first lady Casey DeSantis announced the installation of 63 "telehealth" kiosks where students in public schools that were affected by the hurricane can speak to a mental health professional remotely.

Building affordable housing is another priority for the county — both for residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed and the influx of construction workers who are helping to rebuild. Hurricane Michael damaged an estimated 60,000 homes. Since the storm, rental prices have spiked. There have been increases in foreclosures as residents who lost their jobs struggled to keep up with mortgage payments.

County leaders are in talks with private builders to construct new affordable housing quickly through nontraditional means such as 3-D printing, modular construction and tiny houses.

"It's a chicken and an egg thing," said Panama City manager Mark McQueen. "You can't get employees until you get housing. You can't get housing without construction workers. We are in a vulnerable state of our recovery without housing. It crosses every sector of our community."

___

Associated Press reporter Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, contributed to this report.

___

Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP Business
© Copyright 2019 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
EU sees hope in Brexit talks; Irish leader sees wide gaps
The European Union is maintaining a semblance of hope that the acrimonious fight over Britain's departure from the bloc could somehow still be settled amicably
12:12PM ( 5 minutes ago )
The Latest: California power outages have many scrambling
Residents of Sonoma in California's wine country are swarming to the few businesses opened in the town's square amid a power outage expected to last for days
12:08PM ( 9 minutes ago )
The Latest: Monitor says at least 1 Kurdish fighter killed
A Syrian war monitor and a Kurdish activist collective say Turkish bombardment of northern Syria has killed at least one member of the Kurdish-led force
12:06PM ( 11 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Trump defends Syria move, doesn't want US troops in Mideast
President Donald Trump is defending his decision to pull back U.S. troops from northeastern Syria, saying he's focused on the "BIG PICTURE!"
11:36AM ( 41 minutes ago )
The Latest: EU chief says he's seeking Brexit breakthrough
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker says he is working with EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier to find a way to end a stalemate with Britain's government over a Brexit agreement
11:19AM ( 58 minutes ago )
The Latest: NATO chief says Turkey has legitimate concerns
The secretary-general of NATO is urging Turkey not to "further destabilize the region" through its military action in northern Syria
11:16AM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
The Latest: Power outages begin in California
Pacific Gas and Electric has shut off power to more than half a million customers in Northern California in the biggest planned shut off in the state's history
9:34AM ( 2 hours ago )
California power outage: What happens when the lights go out
A Q&A about California's power outage and why the lights are going out to avert wildfires
9:19AM ( 2 hours ago )
Millions face power outages in northern, central California
Millions of people in northern and central California are facing days without power as Pacific Gas & Electric creates the largest preventive blackout in state history
7:31AM ( 4 hours ago )
Top U.S. News short headlines
US job openings slip 1.7% in August as labor market slows
US job openings slip 1.7% in August as labor market loses momentum
11:03AM ( 1 hour ago )
Boris Johnson's father joins climate protesters in London
The father of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has joined climate protesters in London, after his son urged the demonstrators to pack up their tents and leave
10:35AM ( 1 hour ago )
The Latest: Germany sticking to its position on Brexit
Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman says Germany hasn't changed its stance on Brexit and still intends to work "until the last possible point" to secure an orderly British withdrawal from the European Union
10:34AM ( 1 hour ago )
AP Business
EU sees hope in Brexit talks; Irish leader sees wide gaps
The European Union is maintaining a semblance of hope that the acrimonious fight over Britain's departure from the bloc could somehow still be settled amicably
12:12PM ( 5 minutes ago )
The Latest: California power outages have many scrambling
Residents of Sonoma in California's wine country are swarming to the few businesses opened in the town's square amid a power outage expected to last for days
12:08PM ( 9 minutes ago )
The Latest: Monitor says at least 1 Kurdish fighter killed
A Syrian war monitor and a Kurdish activist collective say Turkish bombardment of northern Syria has killed at least one member of the Kurdish-led force
12:06PM ( 11 minutes ago )
Power outages begin in California amid hot, windy weather
Millions of people in California woke up in the dark Wednesday after Pacific Gas & Electric started shutting off power to prevent what the utility called an unprecedented wildfire danger
12:04PM ( 14 minutes ago )
The Latest: Germany condemns Turkey offensive into Syria
Germany's foreign minister is condemning Turkey's offensive in northern Syria and called on Ankara to end the military action, saying it threatened "a further humanitarian catastrophe and further displacement of persons."
11:55AM ( 22 minutes ago )