It came up with an unprecedented fury out of the Gulf, strengthening 40% in the last two hours before it hit landfall. Four days earlier it did not even have a name.
Hurricane Michael is the most powerful hurricane to hit the Gulf Coast since record keeping started in 1851. It was the third strongest hurricane in history to hit the United States.
Michael decimated the quaint beach town of Mexico Beach, before the eye headed up to my beloved Compass Lake. I cannot bear to even visit and witness the destruction of this place that has been part of our family for seven generations.
The storm then turned its fury towards Southwest Georgia, still a Category 3 when it crossed the state line with Donalsonville in its sites.
This monster storm was large enough that it impacted areas from Dothan, Alabama to Thomasville, Georgia. The storm tracked up into middle Georgia and the Carolinas. Pockets of total wreckage are all over southwest Georgia, but nowhere was the devastation so complete as Donalsonville and Seminole County, at least in Georgia.
You will see pictures and read news reports of the storm over the next few days, until the next big event comes along and captures the attention of the news media. You and I will endure the impact of this storm much longer. We have seen our own pictures and lived our own nightmares.
As I write this article, it is day five after the storm. People are running on adrenaline. First Responders, 911 personnel, and city and county workers in many cases have not even had time to deal with their own personal damage. True servants they are.
Though we might not like it, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Our first goal is to make sure everyone is accounted for and safe. Then we prioritize the needs to survive; water, electricity, sewer, food, medical attention. In other words, the things we took for granted before Hurricane Michael.
The first night after the storm, I sat out on what remains of our backyard and looked up at the stars. I have never seen such a brilliant display of the stars while living in the city. There was no sound of nature, just a very still quiet. It was peaceful and even reassuring.
Even more reassuring is the way people are reaching out to each other. Friend to friend. Stranger to stranger. Black and white. Rich and poor. What a lesson we are learning. We are all in this together.
Churches cooking for hours in the hot sun to provide meals to those most in need. Volunteers from every direction wanting to donate time and talent to the recovery effort. Friends we hardly know wanting to send ice, food, water, anything.
My goal as Mayor is to come out on the other side a stronger, more vibrant community than before. We have the opportunity to reshape our city because the slate has been wiped clean. It will not be easy, but it is possible.
I want to learn from this storm and identify what we could have done better. I want the city to be a resource for everyone who does not know where to turn for help. I am sure our county officials feel the same way.
My goal as a private citizen is to see this city become stronger. To replant the 45 trees lost that the Better Way Project planted to beautify our town. To rebuild the businesses that have been slammed by the storm. To identify the housing needs for everyone that has suffered a loss.
My goal as a human being is to help provide food and shelter to those around us. To help provide those most basic items for our neighbors in need. To provide a place to pick up diapers and formula. Can you imagine having a newborn in the midst of this chaos? To check on our neighbors like they were our closest family.
What do we do now? We take one step at a time. If you are overwhelmed, then just find one thing you can do that makes you feel like progress is being made. Sweep your drive way. Provide sweet tea to the linemen restoring your power. Help those who have greater needs than your own.
This city and county will survive. I know the people and know their inner strength. I know their faith. We are down but we are not out. When you wake up tomorrow, walk outside and take a moment to look at the changed world we live in. This is our home. These are our friends and family.
What do we do now? Let’s get to work.
Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]