Floridians Who Rode Out Hurricane Michael Wake Up To The Devastation Left Behind

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This morning, Floridians who rode out Hurricane Michael are waking up to view the devastation that was left behind by the storm. Vance Beu (ph) is a resident of Panama City, Fla. He described the experience as this massive storm came through.

VANCE BEU: It was terrifying, honestly. There was a lot of noise. I mean, we thought the windows were going to break at any time. We had the inside windows kind of barricaded in with mattresses. I mean, we did whatever we could, just kind of hunkered down and tried to wait it out.

GREENE: That voice there from Panama City, in Bay County, Fla., which may have been the hardest-hit area of the state. And I spoke a short while ago to Bay County's Public Information Officer Valerie Sale.

Just wondering if you could give me a sense for what you're seeing this morning?

VALERIE SALE: I can't sufficiently convey in the English language what we're seeing. It's devastation that we've never seen. Widespread. Many, many communities are affected. The city of Mexico Beach is - the whole county is catastrophically affected. But it is absolutely perilous for people to be out on the roads and out and about. And, you know, our first responders are working very hard to make the roadways passable.

So we're asking residents to stay put if they can. We know everybody is concerned about their property. Certainly, the people who evacuated - and we're really grateful that they did. But we ask that they remain where they are outside of Bay County until we can make these roadways passable. It's an impediment for people to be out on the roads now while our first responders are trying to clear them away.

GREENE: I do want you to just take your time. I feel terrible forcing you to talk about a community that, you know, I know means so much to you.

SALE: It's very difficult. It's unbelievable. I don't know that anybody in Bay County has ever experienced anything like this or ever will again. I spoke with Senator George Gainer this morning, the state senator here. He says it's unrecognizable.

GREENE: What is most striking to you? I mean, are we talking about debris? Are we talking about homes and the damage there? What is - if you could describe to me what exactly you're seeing.

SALE: All of those things. There are homes that are completely destroyed. There are neighborhoods that are completely destroyed. There's debris. There are, you know, trees downed everywhere. Power lines downed everywhere. Roadways that are completely impassable. Neighborhoods that are impossible to get to. It is absolutely the very worst-case scenario that we could have imagined.

GREENE: In terms of residents, do you feel like you're getting a sense for injuries, whether people are OK?

SALE: We're getting a lot of messages. So most of the wireless networks are down in Bay County. Verizon's down. A lot of people use that. I believe AT&T is up. So we are getting some messages on our Facebook page. A lot from people who live outside the area and have family there and who want to know how they're doing, a lot from people who want to know how their properties managed, want, you know, to know information about the damage. There's some from - I've seen some from people who, you know, who have critical situations.

Our first responders are trying very, very hard to get to everybody. We're asking people to - you know, 911 is working. We're asking people to call 911 if they have an emergency situation only. You know, the most important thing is that in these next 72 hours we get the roadways cleared and can start doing some of these safety checks. We can't get to people right now. We're working very hard to do it. Our first responders are doing an outstanding job. They're working so hard. So we want to help people.

GREENE: You said critical situations. Are you - are we talking about people who are injured and waiting for help to get there?

SALE: I saw some from people who, you know, said that they had a roof caved in. You know? And we don't have any way to get to them. We're trying to. We're passing the messages along the best we can and just asking people to call 911 and - you know, we're trying to get to them.

GREENE: Do you feel like you're getting the help and support you need from state authorities, from federal authorities?

SALE: Yeah. We've got - yeah. We've got resources en route. Everybody is really working to get here. The National Guard is in Bay County, and they're assisting. There may be several other resources that I haven't heard about yet but they're galvanizing and coming in. And one thing I'll note, too, is a lot of people who are eager to help, the best way that anyone can help us is to give monetary donations to the Red Cross or the Salvation Army. Right now we are not in a position to take donated items. We frankly need people to not come back to - come into Bay County until we say that it's safe to do so. So if somebody wants to help, that's the way to help us.

GREENE: Valerie Sale, we will be hoping for the best for you as you help your county recover, and thanks for talking to us this morning.

SALE: Thank you.

GREENE: Valerie Sale is a public information officer for Bay County, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.