No love for the Panhandle: Survey shows Floridians don’t want to help with Hurricane Michael recovery
Hurricane Michael damage to Mexico Beach. Image via Getty.

Recovery Efforts Continue In Hurricane-Ravaged Florida Panhandle
Nearly half of respondents thought the panhandle had already recovered.

Public support for Hurricane Michael recovery efforts in the Florida Panhandle is lacking, according to a REBUILD 850 survey released Tuesday.

The results 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. 

The lack of public support might be because Floridians mistakenly think life has gone back to normal in the panhandle after the hurricane leveled parts of the coast. 

As a new hurricane season ramps up, residents in the panhandle are still trying to recover from last year’s Category 5 storm. Sachs media group  conducted the survey of 1,000 Floridians for the National Hurricane Survival Initiative and Rebuild 850. 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.”

The group is trying to raise awareness for the fact that thousands of panhandle residents are still struggling with homelessness, unemployment, and mental health issues. The survey showed more than one in four Floridians think homelessness and unemployment are no longer issues following the storm, and more than three in four believe that mental health, food insecurity, and the threat of wildfires are no longer concerns.

News reports earlier this month highlighted an emerging mental health crisis in the panhandle and estimates suggest there are still about 72 million tons of forest debris from the storm creating a wildfire threat. 

“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.”

The report found the lowest support for panhandle recovery efforts in South Florida. 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.” 

The REBUILD 850 initiative launched in November to advocate on behalf of hurricane victims still trying to rebuild their lives. Bense, Weatherford and Graham co-chair the group. It seeks donations from private citizens and companies to assist with efforts. 

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].


  • Arthro

    June 26, 2019 at 9:39 am

    Where can we make a donation?

    • Rebecca

      June 26, 2019 at 9:47 am

      Too bad Fema provided no support. Denied due to lack of documentation but everything got destroyed… Hum they came to assess the destruction and saw loss. Red tape?

  • Patricia Dehart

    June 26, 2019 at 10:12 am

    Insurance companies and county offices lied about how many claims were completed…the should have said partially paid and they weren’t going to pay but 25% of your loss and you can live in mold and leaking roofs or in home at all…but instead they lied

    • Daniell

      June 26, 2019 at 5:40 pm

      So true and so sad 😞 My family and I are still waiting for our insurance to pay while we are forced to live with black mold, tarps on our roof and busted windows.

  • Rebecca R Modlin

    June 26, 2019 at 10:18 am

    BOTTOM LINE, NOBODY I KNOW GOT A PENNY. we provided what paper information we could salvage. we were at our home when the FEMA rep came. How can we provide to them what we are unable to get back from the destruction. we ended up in another state due to all of this and lost EVERYTHING that we had. all of this was documented by FEMA and ourselves. WHAT DO THEY EXPECT FOR PROOF AFTER THE REPRESENTATIVE ACTUALLY VIEWED THE DESTRUCTION??????? THIS IS TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE.

  • Carol

    June 26, 2019 at 2:22 pm

    These people are still struggling to get back to some sense of normalcy. Many rental properties are decimated or unavailable to those who have lost everything due to landlords charging way above, before storm, monthly rental prices. So much for giving help where needed, lots of price gouging going on. Our son fared better than most, his house is still standing but after a new roof was installed there is still lots of work to be done due to water damage. A contractor came and installed a new door, replacing one that was damaged. Now, despite lots more work needing to be done he has moved on to other jobs elsewhere in the city. This has become the norm since the storm, there’s so much destruction everywhere and not enough skilled workers to do the repairs. There is still debris on the streets and roads, but most sad is the extreme damage done to all the trees in the area. A whole forest was laid low, where now one can see clear to Tyndall AFB where before the trees blocked the view. In areas where there are lots of trees down, a new threat exists from fire. Many business owners have given up and have closed for good, others are struggling to reopen, either because they were not insured or because insurance claims are taking forever to process. This was a category 5 hurricane that was upgraded overnight from a category 2, therefore,many residents stayed in the area thinking they would be safe. Friends who stayed recalled the experience as the most terrifying of their lives; taking shelter in a windowless master bedroom walk-in closet with 5 other people and 7 animals they recounted hearing the walls breathing in and out and tremendous pressure on their bodies. They are grateful to be alive but say they would never stay through another one.

  • Melissa Hyberger

    June 26, 2019 at 3:44 pm

    After the Tornadoes on April 27 2011, our home and neighborhood was devastated. 9 people were killed in our Country, 3 of them were our neighbors. Our County was hit by 4 Tornadoes that day, the largest being a F5 that went through our backyard. FEMA showed up but because we had Homeowners Insurance, they did nothing to help us. If you are a responsible home owner, have insurance and pay your bills, don’t count on the Federal Government to help you.
    If you are irresponsible, don’t have insurance and receive Government handouts, FEMA will take care of you.

    • John doe

      June 28, 2019 at 12:33 am

      What this person said is 100% correct. It is the same way here in the Florida panhandle. The folks that get out daily to work,provide for there family so they can have a comfortable life get nothing and the folks that are already sucking every government program dry are getting all the FEMA help.I don’t here any Dem or Rep debating on how we need to fix this government program.

      Panama City

  • Carey Scott

    June 26, 2019 at 6:50 pm

    The greatest and most insidious impact is to the mental health of children. Houses, cars, even trees (admittedly not overnight) are part of the world of matter and can be replaced. I have been researching this and keep an ear to the ground.

    Bay District Schools says that 5,000 of their students are still homeless. Although I am certain there are criteria, none of this is good. Then, consider the 1-5 year old children. Speaking with the director of a 501(c)(3) in Bay County who serves that population was very illuminating. Those toddlers are with young parents, many without significant resources, if any, and who are forced to make critical decisions under extreme duress. We can do better than this. In The United States of America, we have kids on the street due to one of the worst natural disasters to strike the mainland. No, not fabulous, not fantastic, not the best in the world, etc. Please join me in sending thoughts, prayers and light to all who still suffer or are in any kind of trouble there. Godspeed….


      June 26, 2019 at 10:49 pm

      Very well said. t is really sad that South Florida seems so oblivious to the problems created by Michael when they have lived through a similar situation with Hurricane Andrew and others.

  • Stan Dillard

    June 26, 2019 at 7:07 pm

    One thing we in the Panhandle do have is a L O N G M E M O R Y!

    • Ernie

      July 1, 2019 at 9:16 pm

      I think you’ve hit on a realistic stream of thought Stan. A long memory is very likely what south Floridians have. This was an exceptionally devastating event that everyone that can should do what they can to help. I traveled up there on my own dime and did what I could for four days but felt almost totally meaningless because it was so bad and so many people suffering that I didn’t feel like I was doing anything, Lets not forget my friend that the people of south and central Florida have been hit with many more storms, flooding, hurricanes over time and having lived here almost 50 years and someone who keeps up on specifics, and as someone who has served as an elected official and who volunteers constantly to do what I can to assist those in need, I don’t seem to recall the Panhandle as an outstanding source of assistance during that multitude of devastating events for us and all of our needs. But if in fact the south and central Floridians are currently lacking in that community spirit to help the Panhandle folks, perhaps it goes a little deeper and much more meaningful in our political scheme of things today. The Panhandle has the infamous Matt Gaetz who has become a full fledged attack dog for Republicans and an embarrassment to Florida, which goes hand in hand with the clown in the White House right now who loves the REPUBLICAN Panhandle and his pet Gaetzie who along with Jordan, Meadows and the little jerk from Texas who continually espouse their love of party and power more than they do the needs of their constituency and the country overall. And so lets put the blame where it rightfully and truthfully belongs (not fake news). The US Senate with “I am the Kings right hand man” Mitch McConnell and the Trump administration itself are responsible for the lack of all the assistance the Panhandle needs. They hold the power, the ability and the purse strings to do what is necessary – so stop whining about south Floridians and get your A-Hole of a president to do his job.
      P.S. Do the Panhandle folks feel any association and brotherhood with Puerto Rico and the 3000 people who died there and up to now still haven’t gotten the help they should have from the DRUMPF ?????????
      Think about it !!!

  • Cynthia Gurin

    June 26, 2019 at 7:18 pm

    The Trump administration didn’t give a damn about Americans in Puerto Rico and they don’t give a damn about Americans in the panhandle.

  • Angel

    June 27, 2019 at 8:20 am

    Let Rick Scott and King Trump help them

  • Mark Reeves

    June 27, 2019 at 6:26 pm

    Sadly they will all still vote for Trump

    • Steven Seay

      June 28, 2019 at 3:45 am

      Because Trump is not the problem, so there’s no reason to consider that at all. You are right, no Democrat will carry the Panhandle. Why would they? They are the party of big and inefficient government.

  • DD

    June 28, 2019 at 2:35 am

    The only thing I dont agree with in this article is that Unemployment is an issue. No. EMPLOYMENT is the issue here. There sre NOW HIRING signs everywhere! Anyone who is unemployed right now doesn’t want to work or simply cannot work. There are jobs a plenty.

  • Ron Reese

    June 28, 2019 at 2:39 am

    I’m looking for people willing to pay a fair wage for an honest days work. People in need of trees and or debris removed, tractor & chainsaw work, land leveling, sod, dirt etc.
    I have a front loader, grapple, fork lift, box blade, 6’rake, 2 augers. A 30’trailer with 5’walls. A 14′ x 7-1/2′ x 4-1/2′ dump trailer.

    I am from Texas, I am in Panama City and have been since 2 hours after the hurricane when I came here on my own dime & did Search & Rescue . Which I’ve done many times during many disasters.
    Hurricane Michael was bad real bad, after 7 days I went home and got several friends and my equipment and came back to help y’all. Friends have returned home but, I’ve been here pretty much ever since.
    I have donated countless hours to Bay county. Pretty much 8 months to be accurate. I always go the extra mile to do every job as close to perfect as I can. 8 months and any and all profit has gone back into helping y’all including equipment & repairs, paying helpers who are mostly homeless people looking for work, food, shelter etc… Some have been great. One wrecked my truck. Some have stolen my tools and worse. It gets worse trust me. You can also bet they one that I was able to have been dealt with. I continue to give everyone the same chance I gave the first guy.
    The largest sums of money I’ve been “forced” to give up is to LOCAL PEOPLE. People who hired me and then didn’t pay!!! None were dissatisfied with my work. They have other ways to get out of paying, dishonest ways. Lying is a big part. I don’t want to hire an attorney. I’m here to try and make things better. Nothing more.
    I know the above is not a representation of the vast majority of 850s residents. But some how in the past I’ve been able to take someones word and look them in the eye and shake their hand. Very rarely have I been let down. Until now! From job clients and workers alone I’ve had almost $20,000 stolen from me. Most from locals claiming insurance problems! Only to discover that is a lie too. The money stolen from me by dishonest people from 850 is not only mine that I worked very hard for it’s money I need to support my family. Money they will have to help me repay.

    If anyone in the Bay county area could use my help and will be honest and pay a fair wage for a job well done, let me know. I have temporarily left my family to help y’all. I am honest and professional.

    Ron Reese
    Southern States Tree & Landscape LLC
    Licensed & Insured
    [email protected]

  • Bob N.

    June 28, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    A lot of people that were staying in hotels and motels on Panama City beach were made to leave when spring break started because the tourist where more important. Bay County received over $900,000 in relief money from the government but the county gave Panama City Beach over $600,000 of it when they were the least damaged in the county. The Bay County Commission cares more about Panama City Beach because it is a tourist town. You would think that they would care about the full-time citizens that pay city sales taxes year round and the stores getting reopened for when Tyndall Air Force Base reopened. Callaway and Parker could have used more money. Mexico Beach was pretty much destroyed. These three cities were on the opposite end of the county from Panama City Beach. I live in an unincorporated town in the northern part of the county. What help we got was debris removal of what we could get to the street. My home was destroyed and I got no assistance from the county. I got a little from FEMA but not enough to replace my trailer and I insurance companies wouldn’t insure it because it was more then 10 years old.

Comments are closed.


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