Hurricane Michael: Seven Months Later

Posted by on Jun 4, 2019 in United States

You may remember October 2018, when Hurricane Michael hit the Florida panhandle. This record-breaking storm left a wide path of devastation across Florida and southern Georgia, and now, seven months later, many people are still suffering Michael’s aftermath. Here, btw takes a closer look at the storm, at what happened after, and at the challenges many Floridians are still facing today.

An Infamous Storm

Michael made landfall as a Category 5 hurricane with winds up to 160mph–the most powerful hurricane to hit the continental United States in nearly fifty years, and the first Category 5 storm to hit Florida since the state began keeping records in the 1800s. Entire towns were leveled, especially Mexico Beach, and popular tourist destinations such as Panama City Beach were badly hit as well. When it was all over, Michael left sixteen people dead and a million more without power.

Unforeseen Challenges

In the wake of the storm, as residents tried to put their lives back together, they ran into other, unexpected challenges. The biggest concern by far has been widespread homelessness: tens of thousands of Floridians suddenly found themselves without a place to live. This caused the prices of apartments and rental properties to soar above what survivors could afford to pay. Even worse, in some places, the storm wiped out nearly half of the available subsidized housing. As a result, today, many are still homeless, while others have chosen to leave the area to make a new life someplace else.

Hurricane damage
Hurricane damage Credit: clayball/123RF

Economically, permanent population loss brings its own set of challenges: fewer income tax dollars, school closures, and a decreased workforce. In the meantime, unemployment continues to be a concern. Many of the region’s largest employers were hit hard by the storm, and still aren’t able to operate at full capacity. Downed trees have taken a toll on the state’s lumber industry, while oil and natural gas production have also been affected. This is especially devastating in rural areas that don’t see as many tourism dollars as places like Panama City. In fact, for many of the smaller towns affected–many of which are rural and poor–the cost of hurricane cleanup can be more than their total annual budget.

There are also long-term environmental consequences to consider. For example, Michael’s high winds blew a toxic algae bloom into the Tampa area that devastated marine life and caused distress to residents with respiratory issues. Millions of downed trees present a wildfire risk. Debris continues to remain piled up, especially in poor regions that can’t afford to pay to have it removed.

Where is the Government?

Usually, in the weeks following a major storm, flood, wildfire, or other natural disaster, Congress passes a disaster relief funding bill. But that didn’t happen after Michael. In the meantime, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has provided about $116 million in housing assistance to about 21,000 Florida residents, and the president recently approved an additional $448 million in Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants to the area. But rebuilding houses and apartments takes time, and people are in need of shelter immediately.

The long-awaited disaster relief funding bill is expected to pass Congress in early June. And not a moment too soon: the 2019 hurricane season began on June 1.

Dig Deeper The 2019 hurricane season began on June 1 and continues until November 30. Using Internet resources, what are scientists predicting about the 2019 season? How likely do you think it is that the Florida panhandle will be hit with another severe storm?