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It ain’t over till it’s over

American baseball legend Yogi Berra probably never went through a hurricane, certainly not like Hurricane Michael. However, his classic comment has been used time and again to remind people to wait, because the final struggle might still be around the corner.

It has now been almost 200 days since Hurricane Michael roared through this area and left its mark on the people living in Northwest Florida and Southwest Georgia. Even the most impacted of our neighbors can admit that progress, much progress has been made.

Between our company and our personal property we had 40 different insurance claims as a result of the storm. However, none are more important than your home. In my case, it was my home in Donalsonville and our cabin at Compass Lake that affected me the most.

This past week, we crossed the finish line in the home we have lived for the past 37 years. The corner of South Morris Avenue and West Sixth Street was hit as bad as any area in Donalsonville.  We lost 40 mature trees and our beautiful yard was destroyed beyond recognition.

Like so many of you, we slowly began the process of rebuilding.  We replaced a drive way that took four months to repave. We put out 60 pallets of sod. We rebuilt the brick columns of our fence, the wooden panels in between the columns and the pool it enclosed.

We joined the hundreds of our neighbors in replacing our roof. We had to bring in 25 dump truck loads of top soil to fill in the holes left by the 18 massive root balls that had to be dug up.

Nevertheless, as the painters finished their work last week we celebrated, thinking that the most important place in our world of destruction had been restored. The repairs to our home were complete and we could finally relax and celebrate the return to normal. Or so we thought.

The pool leaked an inch the day after the repairs were completed.  It leaked another inch the next day and the next. The repaired irrigation formed new ponds in our yard, seeping water from undiscovered stresses in the pipes from all the trees ripping the yard apart.

The new grass died in spots, as it exposed the coverage the sprinklers missed.   The fire pit worked beautifully, for about 15 minutes.  The Polaris sweeper would clean only one half of the pool.

It was Compass Lake that brought us back to Earth about the reality of a long term recovery from this epic storm.

We found out by Facebook that the spillway, a small dam that determines the water level of Compass Lake had been breached.  It is next door to our cabin and is something I have visited repeatedly over my life there.   Construction crews replacing the 12 foot drainage pipe under the road may have hastened its collapse, but truthfully it was an old and out of date dam.

The last update to the dam was in 1974.  The first parts of the structure occurred at the turn of the century.  Not the last turn of the century, but the one before that, even before my family established its roots there in 1913.

A long abandoned pipe that acted as an early relief valve was cut.  It resulted in the entire pressure of a 700 acre lake trying to push through a six inch pipe.  Think of it as a six inch wide fire hose and you can see how quickly the damage can happen.

Within five days the lake had dropped 15 inches, more or less depending on your source.   Places with no beach now had 12 feet of sandy soil. Not a bad thing, except that many boats are left stranded in their boathouse, if they still had a boathouse.  The lake continues to drop three inches per day.  The small boat I bought after losing our boat and jet ski during the storm now sits safely on land, securely tied to two trees that are no longer in the water.  So much for thinking we were over the hump.

I realize that I am more fortunate than most in our area.  Our friends in Cairo were not hit as hard by Hurricane Michael, but then had a tornado tear apart parts of their community.    I only write about my own challenging journey because it is the type of journey most of us have been on for the past six months.  Two steps forward and one step back, if we are lucky.

As I have said before, FEMA’s first word to the city and county officials that gathered after the storm was PATIENCE.  With apologies to FEMA, I think Yogi Berra said it best when he said “It ain’t over till it’s over”.


Dan Ponder can be reached at


Dan Ponder can be reached at

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