Today we had a team of about 5-6 vehicles consisting of about 25 people. The group included volunteers from 360 Blue, 30A, and other concerned citizens looking to lend a hand. We packed up with coolers full of ice and water bottles, cases of water, gas, infant formula and diapers, among other essential supplies.
Traveling into Panama City from Santa Rosa Beach following the impact of Hurricane Michael quickly took my breath away. As we drove further and further East, the devastation seemed to grow greater and greater. It’s quite incongruous to see so much destruction, in a land better known for sand and sun. I hate to say it, but, it felt like Armageddon. The Hurricane seemed to spare no one. Some buildings were lucky enough to just lose part of their siding or some roof shingles, while others just seemed to be torn to pieces. I felt great sorrow for the lives and communities that would be confronted with these images on a daily basis, and I was so glad we were there to offer strength.
We spent much of our morning in the Millville area around Daffiin Park clearing roads that were left impassable by fallen trees and handing out supplies. Our team carried with us a number of chainsaws, trucks and even a tractor to make this job easier. Anytime we saw a blocked road, we would stop to assist. It was so uplifting to see neighbors come out of their homes when they saw what we were doing and start lending a hand by moving some of the cut branches. Everybody was so incredibly appreciative and thankful for our support. I was brought to tears by the overwhelming appreciation we felt from one female resident. When she saw that we were going to finally clear the roads so some of the undamaged cars could get out, and that we were carrying supplies of water and other essentials to distribute, it was clear that we were fulfilling a great need. It was powerful.
That afternoon, we spent much of our time continuing to clear roads and distributing supplies. It was incredible to be able to assist, however, it was equally overwhelming the amount of work that needed to be done. One older woman invited me into her home to show me her backyard that was completely covered with trees. It looked like a jungle, with tree limbs everywhere, and it was impossible to pass. She let me know that she’d be glad to have us clear out the space, but, unfortunately, I had to let her know our focus for now was clearing the streets. It was difficult to let that woman down, but I was resolved to the fact that there were many days of work ahead.
We finished the day around 21st Place and Drummond Ave making sure people had water and gas for their cars. There was almost no gas in Panama City, so people ran the risk of breaking down somewhere if they weren’t properly prepared. The lines were so long to wait for gas, that one gentlemen told us it took him 3 hours to fill up his car. Needless to say, our presence of offering free gas was well received. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough gas for the whole town, but we would be back again tomorrow; that’s for sure.
Reported by: Chad Zibelman, CEO, The Sonder Project
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