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Post-Michael: Hard-Hit Florida Residents Consider Whether To Rebuild


Let's take a walk around the Florida Panhandle, which is cleaning up after Hurricane Michael. We will focus this morning on the Panama City area. In the beach communities there, some buildings are fine. Others no longer exist. And NPR's Quil Lawrence has spent days taking it all in.

Hi there, Quil.


INSKEEP: So what have you been seeing?

LAWRENCE: Well, I mean, there are trees down everywhere, these towering pine trees that are just snapped over at the middle. In some of the communities along the water, they've been flattened. And I know people sort of say that word or they try to describe it. Mostly, people down here keep using sort of children's toys metaphors, saying it's like a kid swept all the houses off the Monopoly board or, you know, a kid snapped his toy tree. I don't think people can really believe that a wind could snap that, so they keep on trying to reduce it to some metaphor they could understand how a house could just get picked up and moved two blocks and flipped over to the point where you can't see what was a house and what was a vacant lot. So in those communities, there are people really asking - how can you rebuild? That's talking about, like, Mexico Beach.

INSKEEP: Yeah, yeah. Mexico Beach - I think we've seen the overhead shots where there seems to be about one house that is intact and a couple of others that are severely damaged and everything else - utterly destroyed. But when you pull away from that spectacular shot, do you see widespread damage up and down the coast?

LAWRENCE: Everywhere in this swath, dozens of miles wide, you can see that the storm just tore straight up for miles and miles - all the way to Georgia, really. And you see these trees down, live oak trees that are very old. It looks like somebody just twisted the top off - like, you know, breaking off the top of a flower. So the destruction - it's sort of like a - some people told me it was like a tornado inside a hurricane. In some places, it dropped one house and left others standing with no real explanation.

INSKEEP: So I want to ask about something else, Quil. When we were talking earlier, you mentioned that you can't stay right there on the coast. There's no place that's habitable. You have to back away from the coast each night. When you go in during the day, do you find people - human beings - people who stayed there or are trying to go back there?

LAWRENCE: Yeah. I mean, when you go in, you find lots of people who stayed through. Inland rural communities - I've found people up there. And they're concerned about trying to go to places where maybe aid is being distributed, but they don't have that much gas in the car. And it hasn't always been clear where you can find gas for your car. So they're stuck in many places and trying to decide - do we drive down this road? For the most part, the roads have been cleared of downed trees. But every evening, people like me and contractors - you know, thousands and thousands of linemen cutting down trees and putting up power lines - they're leaving the city to go to the only places they've been able to find to stay 30, 40 miles out. And the traffic just crawls.

Some of those people I saw seemed to be residents who were leaving. I saw a guy with a trailer hauling a boat - had everything he owned, I imagine, in it. And I had to tell him that some of his sneakers had just fallen out the back. But there were also just thousands of these utility trucks. Every once in a while, a convoy of police would cruise through. And we'd all have to pull out to the side, so traffic was at a standstill.

INSKEEP: Wow. So much to discuss. NPR's Quil Lawrence is in Miramar Beach, Fla.

Quil, thanks very much.

LAWRENCE: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.