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Hurricane Michael Relief Efforts Underway In Florida


We're going to start the program in Florida, where relief efforts are underway in areas hit by Hurricane Michael. Access to food, water and other supplies is still a challenge. NPR's Joel Rose has been there reporting for the last couple of days. Joel, what have you seen?

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: I've seen long lines for gas, for food, for water, for all sorts of basic supplies as people are trying to come back into their homes and clean up after the storm. But, you know, long lines is an improvement because, earlier in the week, you couldn't find any of those things in Panama City or any of the surrounding suburbs. So, you know, we are seeing an emergency response really start to step up and get these things out to people. But it's, you know, it remains a challenge to find some - to get supplies into some of the harder-hit areas in the suburbs to the east of Panama City and also up into the rural inland communities that were hit really hard by the storm and are a little more difficult to reach. So, you know, the emergency response is getting underway, but I'm sure it's going to be a while before it reaches everybody who was affected.

MERAJI: And communication is still really tough in places where phone service is down, the Internet's down. How has that affected rescue efforts?

ROSE: I think it has been a real problem. I mean, cellphone service was nonexistent for days after the storm and is still really spotty in Panama City and in the surrounding county. And it's difficult because people can't coordinate the emergency response. It's hard to tell people where to go if you can't communicate with them. And it's also making it really difficult for people to call their family members and check in and say, hey, you know, I'm OK, I'm here, you know, I need this or that kind of supply or even just I'm alive, you know. I mean, emergency crews are going door to door to try to, you know, figure out who survived the storm and who didn't. And I have to think it would be a lot - it must be slowing this effort down for them not to be able to communicate with people by cellphone anywhere - almost anywhere in Bay County. So it's - I think it's been a real hindrance to the relief effort.

MERAJI: And some areas in the state do have power back, but there are a lot of places that still don't have power. Do you have any idea when that's going to change?

ROSE: Well, we got some new information today from the local utility, Gulf Power. They're saying that 95 percent of their customers in Florida will have power back by October 24 if they are ready to receive it, and that is key because not all of them will be. The storm did a lot of damage to people's electric boxes and the wires that connect to their houses and all kinds of things like that. But, that said, that's two weeks after the storm made landfall. And that would be a huge accomplishment considering that, you know, devastation to the electrical infrastructure all over Panama City and the suburbs. I mean, there are electric poles down everywhere and lines in the street. You can't drive anywhere without driving over electric lines. And, you know, so it's a giant mess. And if they could have power back to much of the county in two weeks, that, you know, that would be great.

MERAJI: Maybe it's too early to ask this question, but I was wondering, the people that you've spoken to out there - are they talking about rebuilding? Are they talking about coming back?

ROSE: Well, the people I've talked to are mostly people who did ride out the storm in their homes, and they do want to rebuild. Everybody I've talked to wants to, you know. But it's hard to see how they're going to have the means to do that. I mean, this storm did not hit - I mean, by and large, these are not wealthy communities where the storm did most of its damage. And it's hard to see where they're going to get the money to put on a new roof and maybe a new house. So, you know, as much as people want to stay and rebuild, you know, the how is going to be the key.

MERAJI: That's NPR's Joel Rose reporting on the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. Thanks so much, Joel.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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