October 10, 2018, will forever be a mark on the history of North Florida. It was the day Hurricane Michael barreled through my home town, leaving it unrecognizable. It’s been seven months since that day, and we’re still picking up the pieces in Port St. Joe, as are my neighbors in Gulf, Bay, Calhoun, Franklin and Liberty counties. And while we continue to rebuild, we must also prepare for what could come next — hurricane season starts June 1.
Hurricane Michael destroyed more than we could have imagined. Homes were leveled, businesses were shattered and lives were lost. After it passed, and the sun came out, our community looked like a war zone.
But what Hurricane Michael did not destroy was my faith in our community. I saw neighbors helping neighbors. I saw churches open their doors to help others in need. I saw families invite other families to live together under one roof. I saw people on bended knee praying on the sidewalk. When we were faced with the worst, we showed our best.
Slowly, our town is looking more and more like it did before the Category 5 storm. Houses are getting repaired. Some of our businesses are back open. But there is still a lot of work to do. Blue tarps are visible in every direction. Debris is scattered throughout Port St. Joe and many of the surrounding communities. Just West of us, our neighbors in Mexico Beach are far worse off. And North of us, thousands of trees lay flat on the ground.
We cannot do this alone. We need help. I’m grateful to my fellow board members at Triumph Gulf Coast. We’ve dedicated $15 million in funding from the BP oil spill recovery efforts to help the cities, counties and schools that were also hit hard by Hurricane Michael. The state has shown real leadership in the $1.8 billion in funding for hurricane relief that was passed last week. This funding will go to restore critical life-safety services to Panhandle communities, build and provide affordable housing options for displaced families, rebuild local government infrastructure, repair critical county and municipal roads, and rebuild education facilities.
In order to make substantial steps toward rebuilding, we need support from the federal government. During his recent visit to North Florida, President Donald Trump committed more federal funds to support our recovery, but Congress has failed to act. Congress needs to overcome partisan politics and look past personal interests. Instead, they must think about the needs of hard-working Americans still hurting from this disaster. We cannot allow Congress to forget about the Forgotten Coast.
What’s more, we are quickly approaching the next hurricane season. It starts June 1, and the Big Bend is not ready for another disaster. In North Florida, we now know how devastating a hurricane can be. Let’s be prepared for whatever strikes next.
The Florida Division of Emergency Management provides resources to help families and businesses develop a plan before hurricanes threaten your area. Some key tips include:
Create a disaster supply kit with essentials such as food, water, flashlights, a first aid kit and a NOAA Weather Radio.
Develop a support network of trusted local and out-of-town people and communicate your plan with them before a disaster.
Store important records and resources in a waterproof container and survey the building for hazards that could cause damage such as overhanging branches.
Find more tips and resources at www.FloridaDisaster.org.
Most important is the safety of you, your family and your loved ones. Make a plan to stay safe in the event of a disaster.
I’m confident we will rebuild stronger and better than ever. When I am elected to the Florida House of Representatives, I will fight for the funding that we need. And I’ll make sure that our Forgotten Coast is never forgotten.
Jason Shoaf is a Republican candidate for state representative in House District 7. He is a small business owner and resident in Port St. Joe. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.