Letter from Florida: In the Eye of the Storm

By Alan Levy.

Two weeks ago, my wife and I drove to Atlanta to avoid the path of Hurricane Michael. I brought one pair of shoes, two pairs of shorts, and three t-shirts, assuming we’d be gone just a couple of days. We stayed in a lovely condo at the Atlanta Motor Speedway owned by family members, and normally this would have been akin to a vacation experience … track events several times, and even an air show that featured an F-22 doing acrobatic maneuvers.

We ended up staying there for two weeks, rather than two days, and I was miserable the entire time. I actually felt guilty living in luxury, while my friends and co-workers who remained in Panama City suffered the way they did. No power or water for 16 days. One woman I know well went outside in the rain with a bar of soap and that’s how she showered. People trying to sleep outside while being attacked by biting insects, because their dark and silent homes were no longer a source of refuge. Homes destroyed or severely damaged, windows blown out, more trees inside houses than there are outside them, and the litany of tragic events goes on and on. A woman I met yesterday said she’s lived in the same home in Lynn Haven for twenty years, and now, she gets lost going home from work every day. There are no more landmarks, no familiar points of reference to guide her path.

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My respect for what those in London must have endured during constant World War II bombing attacks has been intensified, and for those innocents who lived in Berlin, as well. “War is hell”, proclaimed the Union General William Sherman, and I feel I’ve witnessed the aftermath of something similar to warfare. “Michael 37, Panama City 0” is emblazoned somewhere on a sadistic scoreboard, perhaps at the local college. And in Mexico Beach, ground zero for this massive storm, while we all know the final score of that contest, it’s not posted anywhere, because nothing remains standing on which to post the results of a challenge to Michael.

It will not take weeks for this little city to recover; it will take years. There is an incredible flow of law enforcement and military personnel into this area, together with thousands of workmen, and they are attempting a herculean task in their efforts to assist our community. It is true that when Americans put their differences aside and work together toward a common goal, greatness prevails. And I see that every day here. I think the only people in this part of the country who are in real trouble are those poor guys who sell firewood for a living. With hundreds of thousands of trees felled by this storm, we’re good in that area.

But don’t let the moronic idolization of the one house still standing in Mexico Beach, owned by a doctor who resides in Tennessee, fool you. Yes, his house is concrete and was built to withstand stronger winds than Michael provided, but his is not the story of the hour. The real story is the tens of thousands who are now homeless, good, honest, trustworthy people who work hard for every dime they earn. Their demeanor through crisis, their work ethic, their determination and desire to overcome all obstacles is the real story of greatness here. These are my friends and colleagues, and these are the people who proudly reside in Panama City and Mexico Beach.

Photo: Associated Press. Alan Levy is the author of The Tenth Plague, which will be published by Chickadee Prince Books in 2019.