Remember the forgotten

Residents of the Sunshine State still left in the dark a year after Hurricane Michael


Courtesy of Kathy Gloer

A year after Hurricane Michael made landfall on the Gulf Coast, some Florida residents are no closer to a normal life. Many people are still living in tents while insurance companies make no progress to repair their homes.

As Halloween creeps around the corner, people board up their houses for the effect of abandonment, and supermarket shelves get picked clean. While horrific conditions are usually fabricated on Halloween for spooky effects, the people hit by Hurricane Michael face these realities on a daily basis even a year after the storm made landfall.

People are just upset that the process is so slow.”

— Kathy Gloer

Reaching top speeds in excess of 160 mph, Hurricane Michael impacted an estimated 50,000 structures and killed 43 people as it tore through the Florida Panhandle. A year later, its effects are still being felt. However, Kathy Gloer, spouse of Starr’s Mill’s history teacher Jon Gloer, continues to fight for the people left in the rubble.

“My big motivation is to let people know that we haven’t forgotten them, and just to help serve people in the best way that I can,” Gloer said. “When [Hurricane Dorian] recently hit, people were saying, ‘Nobody’s still talking about Hurricane Michael. It was a category 5.’  People are just upset that the process is so slow.”

Since the hurricane made landfall on Oct. 10 of last year, Gloer has been on the front lines of reconstruction. From collecting 300 unused pairs of shoes and 3,000 new coats, to distributing an estimated 10,000 toys to Floridian children on Christmas, Gloer has proven to be an unstoppable Category 5 volunteer, and she is not alone. 

On Oct. 12, Chick-fil-A worker David McMillan organized a 50-mile relay that started in Port St. Joe.  Because churches are often the center disaster relief, all of the money raised was donated to some of the local churches still suffering at ground zero. 

In the end, people are still being exposed to the elements and are forced to resort to living in tents outside of their destroyed homes. Some people may be considered worse off than when the storm first hit. Even now, 2,300 children have been classified as homeless or displaced. 

“The problem is that their housing is so expensive that they can no longer afford it, and where they can afford housing, they can’t afford to drive to the jobs,” Gloer said. “It’s kind of a double edged sword…Even down where we are on the west end, there are ‘help wanted’ signs everywhere you go.”

Even now, 2,300 children have been classified as homeless or displaced. ”

— Staff Writer James Hindy

People affected by Michael may have survived its initial blow, but will likely succumb to their financial shortcomings and be forced to leave the place they called home for so many years. As if being unemployed and homeless are not big enough obstacles, residents are now also having to deal with a substantial increase in criminal activity.

Last year, Gloer’s main influence for the toy drive began with a man named Mike Jones. ‘Salvage Santa’, a nickname given to Jones by the locals, was known for collecting and fixing bikes and toys year round to donate at Christmastime. Unfortunately, both his house and collected gifts were destroyed by the hurricane, yet with the help of Gloer and two 20-foot-long trucks full of toys, the pair were able to bring the Christmas spirit back into the lives of people who had lost everything.

“His place got robbed back about three months ago,” Gloer said. “That kind of gave me another mission of [how] we need to help him again because there’s no way he’s going to have enough toys for all the kids that he helps, so we’re going to help replace a lot of those toys that were stolen.”

Robbing toys from homeless children is beyond a cry for help. It is a scream. It may seem like there is little that anybody could do to make a difference, but every dollar, toy, coat, or can of  food has the possibility to bring joy back into the lives of the suffering.  

Even with the roofs that weren’t ripped off, there was still water in the attic, and now you’ve got wet insulation, and that wet insulation has now been sitting there for a year.  Now you have mold.”

— Elaine Holliday

The process of rebuilding has made little headway in the span of a year, and with insurance companies constantly fighting back, conditions of damaged homes are only getting worse. Even residents of Peachtree City are feeling the long-term effects of the hurricane.

“We have a new roof. That’s it,” Starr’s Mill mother Elaine Holliday said. “We’ve gotten several checks, but not enough to really get started until we can do the whole scope of it… It’s just been piecemeal to us… It’s not enough money for the general contractor to start stripping everything down when you’re not exactly sure of everything that needs to get stripped.”

The Holliday family is just one of thousands dealing with the pitfalls of insurance companies in this multi-state calamity. Insurance companies choose to put a Band-aid on the situation for a temporary fix. Ultimately, this allows the debris time to settle and leaves the community with a much more detrimental problem.  

“The thing is when you have rain and 155 mile an hour wind, the water goes everywhere,” Holliday said. “Even with the roofs that weren’t ripped off, there was still water in the attic, and now you’ve got wet insulation, and that wet insulation has now been sitting there for a year.  Now you have mold.”

Because the once vibrant  “Holliday House” has been enclosed and water damaged for a year, the only things able to find refuge in its walls are mold and frustration. The only visible change to some homeowners is an upgrade from a tent to an RV.

“In the neighborhood we live in they’re still rebuilding boardwalks,” Holliday said. “I know the Marina just got started at Port St. Joe. There’s an old theater in the downtown area that the whole roof collapsed, and I think they just got started restoring that, but I don’t know if it’s that different. There are some places that look like people have just up and left.”

While the rest of the country is spending time and money to turn their front yards into an uncanny display, the aftermath of Hurricane Michael has resulted in actual ghost towns.

When the lights go out on Halloween, it is usually a signal for trick or treaters to not bother the homeowners until the next morning.  However, this year in Florida, lights are going out for good. 

To help people fighting for their homes, Gloer is setting up another toy drive. If you or anyone you know is interested in lending a helping hand please contact her at (404) 732- 4264 or talk to Starr’s Mill U.S. History teacher Jon Gloer.