Hurricane Michael One Year Later – The Golden Couple

Oct 4, 2019

After 72 years of marriage, the Harrells thought they’d been through it all. But it was the landfall of Hurricane Michael on October 10, 2018, when they thought they may have finally met their match. It wasn’t just the power of the storm itself, but the aftermath and the process of rebuilding for Jim, 95, and Elfriede, 90, that really tested their mettle. Their roof was damaged and their ceiling had caved in. Their porches were destroyed, as was their outdoor storage shed. They had lived in Panama City most of their lives, and now they had to figure out how to rebuild — a thought that, in and of itself, was overwhelming. 

Jim and Elfriede Harrell outside their home in Panama City, Florida.

The couple shares an amazing history. Jim and Elfriede met during World War II while Jim was serving in the Army in Austria — Elfriede’s homeland. They soon fell in love. Jim invited Elfriede back to the States where they spent the next twenty years near San Diego where Jim worked in the auto industry. They soon started a family — and then Jim was seriously injured at work and put on disability. Eventually they moved to Panama City to be close to family in Georgia. 

Fast-forward a few decades to October 10, 2018.

Jim and Elfriede were staying with their daughter in Bayou George when the Hurricane Michael made landfall. The devastation in the surrounding area was so great that it took three days before they could even return home. When the roads were adequately cleared and they finally made their way back, they were devastated. The house was in near-ruins. The damage to their roof and ceilings forced them to camp out in a joint kitchen-living room area — approximately a quarter of their home’s square footage. Elfriede slept on the love seat while Jim slept on a rolled-up mattress on the floor. This wasn’t how they envisioned their golden years together.

Jim and Elfriede sitting on the couch where Elfriede slept for months after the storm because of damage to the rest of the home.

Jim and Elfriede first reached out to The Sonder Project a few months after the storm by way of our online form — completed by an advocate — requesting assistance. During our first visit to assess the damage to their home, we were touched by the tangible love between the two. We were also impressed by their ability to get around, especially up and down their staircase. Most importantly, it was clear just how much their damaged home was weighing on them. With that first visit, we knew we wanted to help.

Thanks to the support of our donors, we were able to replace the Harrell’s roof and fix their ceiling, which meant they were no longer confined to a quarter of their home. As a result, much of the stress of rebuilding was alleviated. Nevertheless, Jim and Elfriede miss being able to sit out on their front porch together and enjoy the quiet evenings. But they are happy in their home. There’s so much work that’s been completed — and yet so much more left to do. 

It’s the one-year anniversary of Hurricane MIchael’s landfall. Consider marking this solemn reminder by making a donation to show your support for the recovery — and to help us keep going. We have a goal of $25,000 for our Anniversary Campaign. You can help us meet it.