PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — Trees brought down by Hurricane Michael’s ferocious winds took a heavy toll on life, property and the timber industry in the heavily forested Florida Panhandle.
A full $3 billion worth of timber was lost to the storm, authorities said last week. Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam said in a news release on Friday that pulp mills, sawmills and other production operations also were damaged in 11 of the state’s top timber-producing counties.
Putnam called the damage a “catastrophic loss to the forest industry.” The commissioner says the department is working on damage assessments.
Forest Service Director Jim Karels says the downed trees would pose a fire risk once dry, so the agency is working to clear debris and establish fire lines that could help contain a blaze.
In the swath of Florida’s Panhandle devastated by the storm, daily life has become a series of frustrations large and small. There are missing relatives and worries that looters are just outside the door. For many, there is also noo power, no air conditioning, no open schools, no information and little real chance of improvement in sight.
Erin Maxwell waited in vain on Thursday for a gas station to open so she could get some fuel.
“I’m tired and want to go to sleep. I don’t want to wait in another line,” said Maxwell.
Meanwhile, her husband, Mickey Calhoun, was fretting over the fate of his mother, Anita Newsome, 74. She was last seen when officers took her to a hospital the day before Michael made landfall, her son said.
“We can’t find her or get word anywhere,” said Calhoun, 54.
A few miles away, 70-year-old Ed Kirkpatrick and his 72-year-old wife, Sandra Sheffield, huddled in a splintered mobile home surrounded by fallen pine trees. They said they’re both afraid to leave because of widespread reports of looting.
Kirkpatrick, a diabetic who has a big scar down the middle of his chest from heart surgery, needed medical attention and ice to refrigerate his insulin, said Sheffield, who has a pacemaker. But getting out in traffic takes hours and uses precious fuel, she said, and looters could show up at any time.
“I don’t want to go anywhere because I know I’m safe here,” said Sheffield, burying her head in a twisted towel to cry.