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Hurricane Michael Deals Florida's Oyster Industry A Serious Blow


This is a war zone. That's how one resident of the Florida Panhandle described the aftermath of Hurricane Michael to us today. We begin this hour taking stock of the devastation in two towns - Apalachicola and the neighboring town of Eastpoint. They are the heart of the Florida oyster industry, and they are where NPR's Greg Allen has spent today. He is with us now. Hey, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So tell me what these two towns look like today.

ALLEN: Well, you know, this area is somewhat east of where Hurricane Michael made landfall. And they fared better than communities that were right near the center - places like Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe. So we drove in today - my producer Becky Sullivan and I. We didn't see the massive tree damage that we've seen like in those other communities. You know, the trees there mostly stayed standing, which shows that they didn't receive the same high winds. There, I think, it was tropical storm force winds, and the trees withstood it.

Here in Apalachicola and East Point, storm surge was the main menace. And along Highway 98, the coastal road, many buildings were destroyed. These were businesses that were really part of the seafood industry there. All kinds of businesses were just in rubble. Some had already taken a hit economically. But there's not as many there as there were there before the storm. We also saw some people who live on Highway 98 who were flooded. But this is nothing like the destruction that we've seen in some of those other communities.

KELLY: And are you able to get around? Are the roads clear? You were telling me yesterday it took you nine hours to make a drive that normally would take two. So what's the - how's that going?

ALLEN: Right. It's gotten much better, I think throughout the region. In this area, the storm surge did a lot of damage to the coastal road Highway 98. That's the section that runs really all along the coast, through all of these beach towns. And it's been damaged in several places. And it will be some time before that road will be reopened again because that storm surge came up and basically just made the concrete buckle - under washed them.

KELLY: Just washed it out, yeah.

ALLEN: Yeah, washed it out. There's - also in that area, there's a causeway that links Apalachicola and Eastpoint together. That was damaged - now open just a single lane. But that said, there is now a pathway through Apalachicola going west. It would be toward places like Port St. Joe, which were really badly affected. So you have a steady stream of traffic going through with power company trucks, your emergency crews and others. And the people in Apalachicola watching these trucks go by saying, hey, we don't have power. But they know that their neighbors in Mexico Beach need even more help, so I think they're willing to wait at this point. But in Apalachicola - no power, no - very limited cell service and no outside help yet.

KELLY: Wow. And I mentioned these two towns are at the heart of the oyster industry. They've got fishing going on there - a lot of fishing. And they were struggling before the storm. How might this affect them?

ALLEN: Right. I mean, oysters, a lot of them will stay there. But they've had hard times in recent years because of poor water quality in the Gulf. But also, you know, shrimping and fishing are big here. Many people moved their boats upriver to a secluded area - a hidey-hole, they call it - to keep it out of harm's way. So most boats escaped major damage. That's good. But some of the seafood restaurants and wholesalers took a lot of damage and are working to rebuild and be back in business as soon as they can.

KELLY: That's NPR's Greg Allen reporting for us from Florida today and all this week. Greg, thanks so much.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.