As the chaos from Hurricane Michael subsides, many Panama City residents are turning their focus to how they’ll rebuild from the storm.
Five days after the storm hit, Bobbie Amaya was still in the same place where she rode out the storm at the Bare Naked Vape Shop off of 15th Street.
Amaya, along with her son and pets, took shelter in her friend Tony Barr’s shop in the Lincoln Center Shopping Center because she figured it was safer than her mobile home a few miles away. The store was boarded up, but the door was left uncovered, so Amaya parked her Dodge minivan in front of the door.
Although the building had brick and concrete walls, the uniform shop next to the vape shop collapsed, bringing the roof down on top of her van.
Amaya was camping out in that same van Monday trying to get cell service to call her insurance company. Alongside her were her two dogs Cutie, a pit bull, and Queenie, a Yorkie terrier.
“Everything I have left is here,” Amaya said.
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Reaching the outside world, especially to contact insurance companies, has been a struggle for many as cell service is spotty to non-existent in many areas.
The roof of Ron Sharp’s Callaway home in a suburb east of Panama City was peeled off during the storm. His daughter has traveled for work to Atlanta and brought insurance information with her to make contact with the company.
Sharp’s family gathered in his home to ride out the storm because it was all brick, but Michael was stronger.
“I went to Desert Storm,” Sharp said. “I got scudded and all that kind of stuff, and this was right up there with it.”
Irene Hitz arrived back to her Callaway house on Sunday and discovered damage to her roof and water damage in one room.
Her daughter, Katherine Hitz, flew in from New Mexico to help her mother recover from the storm and spent Monday afternoon putting a tarp over the roof.
“It’s not like the other places I’ve seen,” Irene said, of the damage to her neighborhood. “It’s just too much.”
Irene Hitz said she doesn’t know how she’ll repair the damage because she doesn’t have insurance, and said she would look for assistance from FEMA.
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Several FEMA sites had been set up throughout the city. Renee Bafalis, a spokeswoman for FEMA, said people should first contact their private insurance company, but FEMA can help with home repair, temporary housing and medical expenses.
“Our role here is to jump start your recovery,” Bafalis said. “It’s not to make you whole again. That’s our partner agency, the Small Business Association, where you can get the low-interest disaster loans. Ours is a very small portion of the process, but it helps jump start the process.”
Bafalis said the most important thing for people to do at this point is to register with FEMA to begin the process.
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While waiting on insurance companies and FEMA, neighbors were coming together to start the process of rebuilding.
In the Callaway neighborhood pieces of plywood had been placed in people’s yards with “Callaway Strong” spray-painted across them.
At one Callaway house, neighbors Robert Perez and Donald Howell were helping Rick Gaddy remove his Nissan pick-up truck from his garage that had collapsed.
“Everyone has been helping each other working with neighbors,” Gaddy said.
The roof had been completely ripped off Perez’s house and now he is camping in his front yard as he was waits on the insurance company to come document the damage. His family had already moved out of town.
When asked if they’ll move back, Gaddy says it depends on the insurance company.
“I love living in this little house,” Gaddy said. “And this is a great neighborhood with great people.”
Jim Little can be reached at email@example.com and 850-208-9827.