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Hurricane Michael was a storm many Panhandle residents will never forget; however, the rest of Florida seems to have forgotten according to a survey released by REBUILD 850. This historic storm made landfall on October 10, 2018, and was the strongest storm to ever hit the Florida Panhandle, with wind speeds of up to 155 mph- it was just recently was upgraded to a category 5. The storm and the devastation that comes along with it moved quickly throughout the area, leaving at least 43 dead and entire towns wiped away. Damages are estimated to at least $5 billion but recovery has been slow for many locals.
Rebuild 850 was launched shortly after Hurricane Michael made landfall with the intentions “to keep North Florida’s recovery front and center and to marshal ongoing support” according to their website. REBUILD 850 is co-chaired by former Florida House Speakers Allan Bense and Will Weatherford and former U.S. Representative Gwen Graham. They also have a diverse team of dedicated partner organizations urging anyone that can to visit, volunteer, donate, and invest in this region that has been so devastated by Hurricane Michael.
The survey results collected by Sachs Media Groupon on behalf of the National Hurricane Survival Initiative and Rebuild 850 showed nearly half of respondents would do nothing to help people affected by the hurricane and nearly 75 percent said they would not consider donating money to help with relief efforts. Lack of public support might be because for most Floridians, life has gone back to normal. They are not reminded day in and day out of the devastation left by the storm like the residents of the Panhandle. As the new hurricane season ramps up, the Panhandle is still in shambles from last year’s Category 5 storm.
The survey was meant to gauge statewide awareness of the storm and its continued effects. “These panhandle residents need the support of our entire state,” said Allan Bense, REBUILD 850 co-chair and former Speaker of the House. “These communities are suffering. We’re all Floridians, and we need to come together. We are urging all Floridians to lend a hand to our most vulnerable citizens.” Homelessness, unemployment, and mental health issues are still very real issues for these Floridians. “Many Panhandle residents feel like they’ve been forgotten by their state,” said former Congresswoman Gwen Graham. “These survey results are incredibly frustrating. Families are camped out in tents and children are struggling with anxiety, and Floridians in other areas of the state are unaware.”
Even more disheartening was the fact that the report found nearly half of those respondents didn’t know which hurricane had hit the panhandle and fewer than half understood the severity of Hurricane Michael. “While we’re thankful for the federal and state funding the Panhandle relief and coverage effort has received, we need to come together as Floridians to do even more,” said former House Speaker Will Weatherford. “This was the second most powerful storm to ever hit the mainland United States, and it will continue to take more time and money to recover and rebuild.”