Visiting Hurricane Michael

DFPG sent Brayden Evans, Brad Anderson, Eric Voegeli, and Matt Argyle to assist DFPG advisor, and Florida resident, Bill Bass, after Hurricane Michael.  Below is a short account and some photos of the experience, written by Matt Argyle.  

We arrived in Destin Florida at around 11 pm and were greeted by intense humidity and Bill Bass’s cheery face. We were headed toward a neighboring town to Bill’s storm-torn Panama City where we’d stay. Bill advised us there was no phone service, no power, and no running water. Driving to the house, the fog was so thick you could touch it. We drove by gas stations where people formed long lines to get their $25 worth of rationed gasoline. Pulling up to the place we’d stay we were greeted by the loud hum of a gas generator in the garage and a faint light in a window. It was too dark to see any significant damage, this place was still 20 miles away from the major storm center. At the house we’d stay in, Bill’s charming wife had set up inflatable beds for us near a portable AC unit, a unit which was our saving grace that night and thereafter.

We got an early start the next day, we had only the clothes on our backs (the airline lost our bags) but it was sufficient since the bulk of our efforts were manual labor. The morning was hot already and the sun was just coming up, the humidity was also very high. The drive to Bill’s house started to rock my world, first noticing the trees standing at a 35-degree angle, and many broken. Then the boarded windows and aluminum siding on the ground from nearby buildings. The closer we came to Panama City the worse things looked. Roadside billboards were bent over, crushing adjacent buildings. Roofs were gone with the contents of the building exposed to the elements. Carports collapsed on top of cars, buildings collapsed on top of the things they were erected to protect, an assisted living facility 20 stories high had entire sections of wall torn away revealing the rooms behind them. Bill confirmed that the residents didn’t evacuate, I hoped they were not in their rooms when the walls were torn away. Trees torn from the ground had fallen on top of homes that seemed to shudder under the weight. Power lines lay everywhere, driving over them gave you an unsettled feeling inside. There was an air of desperation, sadness, hopelessness in some places. The damage was beyond anything I’d imagined. I kept thinking about how the world we’ve built for ourselves is surprisingly fragile.

We filled our days ripping up carpet, padding, tack strips, moving furniture, moving utility poles washed into backyards, sawing trees, and nailing tarps to roofs to keep water out. After a few days, Bill’s house was the best looking on the block, we cleared his neighbors’ home too, and later did some work on Bill’s assistants’ house which was the most damaged of all (it suffered the eye of the hurricane and was speared by 2 enormous trees). Speaking with the woman whose home had been wrecked by the trees, I asked her how she gets anything done when the damage to her home and belongings was so extensive. In a choked voice, containing her emotion, she said “The only thing you can do, just start… One thing at a time.” It was moving and I couldn’t help but wonder at how capricious the storm was. One area would be ravaged and a few miles away was barely touched.

Despite the destruction and the prospect of months’ worth of repair to restore the area to its former beauty, everyone we met was facing the hard road ahead with courage and determination. Good humor was abundant. It would be misleading to suggest that everyone was cheery. There are always those who will prey on the disadvantaged. Scammers came out of the woodwork and some retailers increased their prices significantly. In the face of the good and the bad, Arthur Golden’s quote rang out in a very literal way “Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.”

We are grateful to Bill Bass and his family for allowing us to work alongside them and for their incredibly generous hospitality!

Matt Argyle