by Cailee Heinemann, Staff Writer

On Oct. 10, 2018, life as the Panhandle knew it changed forever. Hurricane Michael, the third-most intense hurricane to ever make landfall in the U.S., killed over 60 people and destroyed thousands of homes, leaving many people homeless.

Panama City Beach is known for being the hotspot of spring break.  But all of that changed last year. The businesses that so many people enjoyed and spent countless days at are now nothing more than metal and wood on the side of the road.    

Local businesses as well as big corporations were widely affected by Hurricane Michael. The Panama City Mall is a major tourist attraction, as well as a big attraction for locals and is being shut down due to damages done by the hurricane.  

Small towns surrounding Panama City took catastrophic damages to businesses and livelihoods. The towns all depend on Panama City for their shopping needs.  After the hurricane, most locals have been forced into driving to Dothan, Alabama, for any bigger needs. For weeks after the hurricane, Dothan was the only city with gas or other necessities.    

Families were without power for weeks while waiting for linemen to come through and put new power poles up. However, in order to get to the poles, the roads had to be cleared. People came together as a community to get the roads clear just so they could leave their houses. 

Houses have been ripped completely apart, leaving nothing but the concrete foundations. There isn’t a tree in sight and for the trees that are still standing, they stand at a 45-degree angle waiting for the next gust of wind to come and knock them down.

Many families are still living in hotels or campers trying to fix what has been broken by hurricane Michael. Some families are living in tents, while others are living in homeless shelters with nowhere else to go. Buildings that have been standing for hundreds of years are nothing but a memory now. Coming from someone who has lived in one of those small, surrounding towns, the sight is absolutely heartbreaking.

“It looks like an atomic bomb has gone off, leaving nothing but destruction,” expressed Cianna Harris, a Marianna local. 

Cianna was out of a job for weeks while waiting for the company she worked for to fix damages from the hurricane.   

Small businesses had to close for weeks while assessing the damages done.  Daycares and schools were closed, leaving children without a roof over their head or even a warm meal. This kind of time off affected the schedules for learning objectives and test deadlines. It also affected the financial stability of many business owners. Days off can be harmful, but weeks off are detrimental.

This will be a slow, painful journey, and these places that the Panhandle has been known for may never fully recover from the damage that Hurricane Michael has inflicted.