The Salvation Army responds to Hurricane Michael’s fury
By: David Ibata
Less than a month after Hurricane Florence swamped the Carolinas, Hurricane Michael roared across the Florida Panhandle and south Georgia, destroying homes, businesses and crops and leaving thousands homeless, hungry or without electricity.
The Salvation Army was there – hundreds of volunteers from across the Southern Territory and beyond, providing food, hydration and spiritual comfort after the Oct. 10-11 storm.
“Having The Salvation Army out here gives me hope,” said Brian Headley, a lifelong resident of Panama City, Florida, who rode out Michael in a mobile home with his sister, mother and grandmother. He was picking up food and water from a Salvation Army canteen near his trailer park.
The Army’s presence, he said, “means I know I won’t go hungry and it has strengthened my faith. I really appreciated the prayer and comfort. I needed it, everybody needs it.”
Hurricane Michael came ashore Wednesday, Oct. 10, as a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 155 mph – almost a Category 5. It devastated the little coastal hamlet of Mexico Beach, Florida, and heavily damaged nearby Panama City and Apalachicola.
The storm then cut a swath through south Georgia, and dumped heavy rains on parts of North and South Carolina still recovering from the flooding in September caused by Hurricane Florence.
Michael was blamed for at least 30 deaths across four states. A total of 124,000 people in Florida alone were still without electrical power one week after the storm. Much of Georgia’s pecan, cotton and peanut crops was wiped out; agricultural losses for the state were estimated at $3 billion.
The latest hurricane was especially challenging for Salvation Army personnel just returning from deployment in the Carolinas. Some Florida teams had perhaps two days’ rest before heading out again to deal with Michael. Texas teams that were in the first wave of response to Florence were in the first wave into Panama City.
“We just dug really deep and had a lot of teams ready to go for a second round of rotation,” said Jeff Jellets, territorial disaster coordinator. “It’s pure grit and with God’s help.”
One week after Michael, Emergency Disaster Services for the Southern Territory was still ramping up its response. More than 200 officers and affiliated volunteers and staff had been in the field since before the storm, and many were ending their two-week deployments Oct. 22.
A second wave was coming to relieve them – from across the South, territorial headquarters, the Eastern and Central territories, and Canada and Bermuda.
“We are actively recruiting from all divisions and territories to fill the next wave of individuals,” Jellets said. “At this point, it’s pretty much the national Salvation Army that’s responding.”
The Salvation Army established incident command centers in Panama City, Tallahassee and Apalachicola, Florida, and in Albany and Bainbridge, Georgia. It positioned canteens at dozens of feeding sites while other units were roaming the region.
The Army also partnered with the Virginia Baptist Disaster Relief Organization to provide cooking services outside the Albany, Georgia, Corps building for meals distributed in south Georgia.
Terry Lightheart is emergency services director for the Alabama- Louisiana-Mississippi Division. She was on a two-week assignment as planning chief for the Albany incident management team and was driving on a rural Georgia highway when she spotted, about 100 yards off the road, a nameless enclave of 60 thin-walled trailer homes mangled by toppled trees, and people milling around.
Lightheart turned around and headed back to Albany. She soon returned with an ALM crew and a catering truck loaded with food and drinks.
“Hi!” she said cheerfully. “We’re here to see if you need any food and water.”
“Oh, that would be terrific!” one man said. “We thought we were all alone – nobody has been out here to help us. There are people in here who could really use some food.”
Many people in the Florida Panhandle and south Georgia are still short of food, water, shelter, fuel and electricity.
“We’re in a line at a gas station six to eight cars deep, trying to get fuel,” Jellets said, speaking by mobile phone from Panama City. “Our corps here are running on generators. We’re talking until the end of the month before power is restored. There’s no housing for staff; people are sleeping in offices. Water, bathrooms, are few and far behind. You’re lucky if you get a shower once a week.
“Things are still very, very difficult. The demand for food service is extremely high, particularly in the Panama City-Mexico Beach-Apalachicola crescent. We’re doing tens of thousands of meals a day and have 70 canteens deployed across the region. There’s no definitive end in sight for food services in the hardest-hit areas.”
David Yarmuth and Donald Felice contributed to this story.