© 2021 West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Telling West Virginia's Story
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Crews In Panama City, Fla., Working To Clear Debris, Restore Power, Water


Search and rescue teams are out in force along the Florida Panhandle. They're looking for survivors of Hurricane Matthew, which is now being blamed for at least 13 deaths according to the AP. One of the towns along Florida's coast that was pummeled by Hurricane Matthew is Panama City. Emergency crews there are working to clear downed trees and debris. The city is still without water, without power. And there is no timetable for when those services might be restored. NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The roof of the Saint Andrew United Methodist Church is still in place, and the pews are still there. But where the back wall should be, there is only blue sky.

JOHN BLOUNT: We were all in our little safe rooms. And one of my members came out and looked in the sanctuary. And he came and found me and just said, John, the sanctuary's gone.

ROSE: Pastor John Blount was sheltering inside the church along with two dozen other people when the hurricane hit. The wind ripped two of the walls away, but Blount didn't even hear it because the storm was so loud. Blount says he's grateful that everyone in the building survived. Now he's looking ahead to this weekend.

BLOUNT: We'll have worship service on Sunday somewhere and have a very simple service just proclaiming that God is good.

ROSE: As we talk in what's left of the church, a visitor arrives almost as if on cue.

MICHAEL TUGWELL: I'm Father Michael Tugwell.

BLOUNT: Hey, Michael. How you doing?

TUGWELL: I'm right up here at St. John's.

BLOUNT: Great.

TUGWELL: We'd like to offer you our facilities...

BLOUNT: Wonderful.

TUGWELL: ...Because we didn't have that much damage.

ROSE: Father Michael Tugwell says his church just a few blocks away came through the storm relatively unscathed. But Tugwell knows that was the exception in Panama City.

TUGWELL: It is going to take years for this place to get re-established. You know, it's going to take months probably to get electricity back. And I hope it doesn't take too long for water 'cause that's important.

ROSE: Cellphone service is sketchy. There's no clear sense of when power and water might be back on. And the back streets are still a tangle of fallen electrical wires, twisted metal and downed trees.


ROSE: The storm uprooted 200-year-old oak trees and towering magnolias and snapped tall pine trees in half. Jose Marrero owns a landscaping business in Jacksonville. He traveled here to work cleaning up the mess.

JOSE MARRERO: With a storm like this, there's really nowhere to start. Basically you just got to come in, and whoever is yelling out for help, just try to help them.

CAROL JORDAN: I still haven't been able to wrap my head around this, this kind of devastation.

ROSE: Carol Jordan was walking around her neighborhood in Panama City with her husband and their dogs.

JORDAN: We have two dogs and two cats. My children's house is unlivable, so they're camping with us. You know, we just don't know. We're taking it hour by hour.

ROSE: It's the days and weeks ahead that worry Father Michael Tugwell.

TUGWELL: The biggest problem is yet to come, and that is when the - those that evacuated come back. You know, a lot of the people are gone from here, and when they come back, that's when there's going to be a lot to do.

ROSE: County officials say help is on the way in the form of water and emergency rations. They say residents who want to return to their homes can, but if there's somewhere else they can stay for a while, they should. Joel Rose, NPR News, Panama City, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

WVPB is local news, education, music, and entertainment for West Virginia.
Your donation today will help keep us strong and vital.