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Bay County Leaders Reflecting on Hurricane Michael on Six Month Anniversary


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BAY COUNTY, Fla. - Six months after Hurricane Michael devastated the Panhandle, county officials are reflecting on what they can do in the future to be better prepared for the next storm.

Because when it comes to a catastrophic storm hitting a coastal community, the question isn't 'if' it will hit, it's 'when.'

Bay County Commissioner, Griff Griffitts, and County Manager, Bob Majka, have lived in the Panhandle for more than a decade, and say the destruction Hurricane Michael left behind is unlike anything they have seen.

"Damages through FEMA are around $661 million for a county of 180,000 people, that's like nothing anyone has ever experienced," Griffitts said.

Both county leaders were at the Emergency Operations Center when the storm passed.

"At that point getting briefings from the hurricane center, the state EOC and just trying to shift our initial response plan as the forecast was changing," Majka said.

But at the same time, Griffitts said they were trying to make sure their families were safe.

"My last text with my brother is 'how long is this going to last?'

Then, the communication throughout the county went dark.

County leaders then had to resort to other options to be able to communicate with the public.

"In some cases we were out in the impact area handing out fliers, at one time we were out flying a banner plane to disseminate information," Majka said.

Now, with hurricane season six weeks away, this is one thing Majka said they are hoping to improve.

"We can't go through an event where we literally can't talk to one another from one side of town to another --  where it requires a four hour drive from point A to point B because of all the debris, just to have a five minute conversation," he said.

Another is how shelters are being handled, after Majka said the American Red Cross notified the county that they do not have the capacity to manage them.

"Bill Husfelt, Superintendent of Schools, has stepped up and has offered to make school board staff available to help manage these facilities as shelters," he said.

But if there is one thing they know they can count on, it is the strength of the county.

"You can see communities get hit like this, and some of them just lay down and they don't stand back up and they're not as resilient," Majka said. "I'm proud to say our community wasn't like that. Our community got right back outside after the winds stopped blowing, dusted themselves off, and got their chainsaws out and did whatever they needed to do to help their neighbors out."

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