If you’re from the Florida Panhandle - or have friends who are - you’ll see a lot of “One year ago...” posts today.
That’s because second only to 9/11 (third after that and the shooting of JFK for those who are old enough to remember 1963), I daresay Hurricane Michael is the event that stands out most for us in the “I remember exactly where I was when...” conversation.
Only it wasn’t a split second, nor a span of minutes or even hours.
This event brought aftereffects still seen now, a year later. It’s little wonder we want to share our stories.
A year ago today, I was sitting by my daughter’s bedside at Children’s of Alabama as she was receiving chemo.
Back home, my oldest two daughters, both nurses, were in the midst of caring for patients they had evacuated from the facility where they worked in Panama City. They communicated with me until they couldn’t - experiencing the Category 5 storm as a Cat 3 when it hit the city they had evacuated to 90 miles away from the direct hit. Their story is amazing, but it’s not mine to tell - and I would just get sidetracked by telling you all how incredibly proud I am of them both. If you know Amber Leighanne Patino or Taylor Nicole Perryman, you should ask them about it sometime.
My son was with Amber and Taylor’s significant others, and it would be days before I could reach any of them or my brother or elderly parents.
I had to trust in God that they were safe, trust in the preparations they had made ahead of the threat.
Meanwhile, I continued to sit with my child as she received her cancer treatment - and remotely served in my position as Public Information Officer for Holmes County Sheriff’s Office, as well as in the same capacity for Holmes County Emergency Management, as requested by the state’s action team.
I churned out press releases, social media posts, and other updates for both agencies. While other communication systems were down, I took messages from Facebook and Twitter and relayed them to the amazing HCSO dispatchers so that requests for wellness checks and for food, water, and medical attention were routed to the correct people.
I say all that to say this: What I saw from my co-workers during this time was nothing short of extraordinary.
The Sheriff, deputies, dispatchers, jail staff, and even office staff worked around the clock, catching what brief sleep they could to ensure the safety and security of the county. In addition to “normal duties,” they delivered food and water and helped clear roadways and other areas of debris.
Holmes County’s EMA, EMS, firefighters, and prison staff did the same.
Rank, scheduled off time - None of that mattered. Everyone pulled together for the good of the community.
Meanwhile, their families did what they had to do to hold down their respective households, understanding the nature of the job. I can’t imagine what kind of strength that takes, especially for young mothers.
As everyone kept going, doing what had to be done, I kept thinking about Fred Rogers telling the story of how his mother would always say of scary events that we should look for the helpers, look for the ones running toward the danger to keep others safe.
This time last year, none of us had to look any farther than our own community.
And as we continue to recover from the monster that was Hurricane Michael - even though the rest of the nation was quick to forget - I know many of us fear having to live that nightmare again.
But take comfort in knowing that if we once again see disaster coming, our helpers are not far behind, faithful and ready to keep our community safe.