Michael Recovery: Apalachicola, Fla., Begins To Rebuild

Oct 13, 2018
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Hurricane Michael set several records when it came ashore this week on Florida's Panhandle. It was the most powerful hurricane ever in that part of Florida and brought nearly an 8-foot storm surge. That's an area in Apalachicola that's at the heart of Florida's oyster industry. NPR's Greg Allen visited the area and filed this report.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Apalachicola is a small city - just a few thousand people. But it's tight-knit and self-reliant. On Friday, two days after the storm, a makeshift restaurant was in full swing on a downtown street handing out meals - hamburgers, sausages, chicken, mac 'n' cheese. Lindsay Shepherd (ph) says, people in restaurants in town donated food.

LINDSAY SHEPHERD: We just decided yesterday to not sit around and get depressed but motivate and put a little sunshine in the community.

ALLEN: Fay Johnson (ph), who's lived here 14 years, says Apalachicola is a community that takes care of itself. Look around, she said, you don't see one city official or county official here.

FAY JOHNSON: The people here - we are a community of individualists and people who survive on the edge of everything here. We're a hundred miles from anything, and that's why we're here. We like it. It's a lovely, wonderful town, but people have to get here.

ALLEN: After Hurricane Michael, accessability was a problem. The storm surge washed out entire sections of the main coastal road - Highway 98. It also temporarily forced the closure of a bridge that links Apalachicola with its neighbor, Eastpoint. Now the bridge is reopened. In this and other coastal communities, mandatory evacuations were ordered, but many decided to stay. Anthony Walker (ph) lives just across Highway 98 from the bay, so he stayed with friends a few blocks inland. When he came to check on his place, he was surrounded by water.

ANTHONY WALKER: I had to wade in to the front door and see if there was still water in there, and there was. My cats was in there, swimming around. I didn't think it was going to come up this high, but, you know, if it happens again, I'll surely get them out of there.

ALLEN: When he began cleaning up, Walker said, there were crabs in his house. A friend found a snake. Carmel Millender (ph) was cleaning up her yard yesterday, burning piles of limbs, twigs and leaves left by the storm. She works as a 911 police dispatcher. As the storm raged and the floodwaters began rising, she says she took a number of calls from people asking for help.

CARMEL MILLENDER: We just told them, you know, you took your life in your own hands. I know it sounds mean and cruel, but when we mandatory evacuate you, we do it for a reason. And we're not going to put our guys' lives on the line because you decided to stay and put your own life in danger.

ALLEN: Fortunately, Millender says, there weren't any casualties from the storm at Eastpoint or Apalachicola. Although the people are OK, many businesses aren't.

At Lynn's Quality Oysters, owner Lynn Martina yesterday was sweeping up mud and trying to clean up after a hurricane again.

LYNN MARTINA: Well, the water came up about 3 foot inside the building. It busted a wall on this side, so the water came in that way.

ALLEN: Martina's business, a retail seafood shop and restaurant, took a lot of damage 13 years ago in Hurricane Dennis. Before that, her father owned a wholesale seafood business until hurricanes in 1985 wiped him out. Even before the storm, the seafood business here was in bad shape. For several years now, poor water quality in Apalachicola Bay has led to declining oyster harvests. For Martina and others here, recovery from Hurricane Michael is one more hill to climb.

MARTINA: And we'll be back. You know, it's going to take us a little time. We're beat up pretty bad right now, but we're survivors. We've known it for. It's just the price we pay for living where we live.

ALLEN: To begin the recovery, Martina says, the first thing she and others need is to get the power turned back on. Greg Allen, NPR News, Apalachicola, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.