Going into the frenzy of the holidays, life seems to speed up, but for Paul Hunt and his wife Lucille, time is standing still.
“I’m just a devastated,” Paul said. “Now it’s just a pile of rubbish, just every street.”
The Hunts traveled back down Panama City just after Thanksgiving to check on their house and some of their friends. What they drove through left them stunned.
“It’s just depressing more than anything because I remember the city how it was and nothing looks the same. Absolutely nothing,” Paul said.
Paul and Lucille have called Panama City home since 1962, but when Hurricane Michael strengthened to a category 4, they decided it was time to go.
“I said ‘We’re gone. We’re out of here.’ And I’m glad we did leave, because my house. . . Well, matter of fact, it’s condemned. My own home is condemned,” Paul said.
Pictures show a strong, brick home with a NOAA-caliber anchored roof reduced to gaping holes and piles of rubble.
“It looks like the wind gathered and came straight at my house,” Paul said.
The Hunts evacuated with little more than a change of clothes.
“We expected to come back to the house being just like we left it, so all we took was changing clothes basically,” Paul said.
“So, you lost everything?” reporter Christie Ethridge asked.
“Lost everything, yep,” Paul replied.
Paul worked for the Gulf Power Company for 49 years, so he knew every inch of the city by heart, but he says this time was unfamiliar.
“This is the worst I’ve ever seen. The street signs are gone and all the major streets are narrowed because of the debris. You know, you used to be able to figure out a road marker or house or light pole or sign. None of that is there now,” he said.
He says very few businesses are back open and the community is getting desperate.
“Do you feel like the people and devastation are about to take a back seat and get pushed to the back burner?” reporter Christie Ethridge asked.
“They already have,” Paul said.
Wildfires have pulled FEMA to the west coast. Insurance now has to be reached by phone. Restaurants are only open half days since they can’t find the people to work, and schools are consolidated since many are still too damaged to use.
“Do you feel forgotten?” reporter Christie Ethridge asked.
“Yes,” Paul said. “And that’s going to go on for a while. No matter how much help we get, it’s not going to be enough.”
Paul and Lucille plan to go back to Panama City and rebuild in the same spot, but first they have to wait on insurance, so it will still be six to eight months more before they can start rebuilding their life.
“I wouldn’t know how to tell anyone to do it. I just trust God that it’s going to happen,” he said.