The Southeastern United States has recently been battered by two hurricanes in as many months, beginning with the damage done to the Carolinas in September by Hurricane Florence, and escalating with the devastation wrought in Florida and Georgia in early October by Hurricane Michael.
And while many sad stories have come out of these two storms, the aftermath has also had the effect of highlighting the exceptional work done by the thousands of first responders who’ve volunteered or been pressed into service during this tumultuous period.
Region weathers some of the worst storms in recent memory
Though classified as a Category 4 major hurricane during peak intensity in early September, Florence had dissipated to a Category 1 when it made landfall on Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, on September 14. Despite the downgrade in severity, Florence still possessed strength sufficient to uproot trees and cause mass power outages throughout the Carolinas over the next several days. The storm also spawned widespread freshwater flooding, producing as much as 35 inches of rainfall in some areas. In all, a total of 53 deaths have been attributed to the storm.
Less than one month after Hurricane Florence had finished its slow yet destructive crawl across the Southeastern U.S., the region was suddenly hit by the historic Hurricane Michael. When the Category 4 hurricane made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, on October 10, it became the strongest storm on record in the Florida Panhandle. With maximum sustained winds of 155 mph – just 2 mph short of a Category 5 designation – Hurricane Michael also gained the dubious distinction of being the most intense landfalling U.S. hurricane in nearly 50 years. The impact was felt not just in Florida, but in Georgia, Virginia and parts of the Carolinas where wounds from Florence were still fresh.
The number of fatalities caused by Hurricane Michael stood at 36 some 10 days after landfall, though many more individuals remained missing and unaccounted for.
Area witnesses some of the best the country has to offer
While it is heartbreaking to reflect upon the loss of life caused by these two storms, the pair of tragedies has also produced many inspirational stories of first responders from both near and far descending upon the affected areas.
Just as the last of Hurricane Michael was finally dissipating on October 16, Forbes contributor Don Yaeger recalled sharing a flight with several dozen first responders on their way to his home state of Florida. When Yaeger asked a Sheriff’s Officer from Iowa if he was going there to help any family or friends living in the panhandle, the man answered, “I don’t know anyone there, I just know this is where I’m supposed to be.”
Fox 29 News Philadelphia reported on a Pennsylvania task force that spent 19 days assisting those in need in the wake of Hurricane Florence. Then, just days after the elite group of urban rescuers and paramedics had returned home to the Keystone State, the arrival of Hurricane Michael had them once again traveling over 1,000 miles south for another two-week deployment.
While the many first responders who came from miles away to lend a hand made truly admirable sacrifices, perhaps even more extraordinary were those who helped out despite being themselves victims.
CNN reports that in Panama City, Florida, one of the towns hit hardest by Michael, many local first responders were dealing with their own property damage and displaced families while still honoring their commitment to the wider community.
“While we’re here at work we’ve kind of got to put those emotions and things that are going on in our personal lives aside, because we have to worry about what’s going on here,” said Panama City Battalion Chief David Collier, whose own home was damaged in the storm. “We have to worry about our own personnel and the citizens we’re trying to protect.”
The full, lasting impact of Hurricanes Florence and Michael is still unknown, and will almost certainly bring more bad news further down the road. But we can all be grateful for the first responders who were on-hand to keep the immediate impact from being any worse.