On October 10th, following Hurricane Michael’s Rampage through Panama City, Florida, the call went out for Helping Hands volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to provide relief. As a result, that first weekend approximately 3,000 volunteers headed to the Florida panhandle to remove fallen tree limbs and clean out and remove sheetrock from homes hit by recent flooding and put a tarp on nearly every house in the area.
For the next six weeks workers traveled from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, and all parts of Florida to lend a helping hand. They came prepared to be self-sufficient as there were no hotels or restaurants open. As a matter of fact, most of the power lines were on the ground, meaning there was no electricity or running water either. Nearly every home had some damage and more trees were down than those left standing. Utility companies had to replace over 6,600 electric/telephone poles.
The first Friday night, three semi-trucks arrived at the storm damaged Panama City Stake Center, to deliver chain saws, carts, tarps, water and food supplies. Because of the wide swath of damage, 6 command centers were set up across the region. Saturday morning saw vehicle after vehicle of volunteers work their way through the debris and carnage strewn streets. Many volunteers began the work of clearing out the debris from the damaged command center while others set up generator to provide power for computers and phones so others could begin the process of contacting people who might need assistance. That first weekend Helping Hands volunteers worked over 34,000 hours. They completed 2,692 work orders. Hundreds of volunteers continued to work for six weeks. Their assistance was welcomed by local government officials. First responders were directing people in need to the command centers. The Church Welfare Department sent many truckloads of supplies and volunteers packed food boxes to provide meals for those in need.
Many of the women’s groups who were unable to do the heavy clean up labor, contributed needed items like cleaning products, diapers, and water. Some groups made hundreds of chocolate chip cookies.
By the end of six weeks, Helping Hands volunteers had completed 251,378 hours of work, completing over 9,000 work orders and applying over 2,500 tarps to roofs in the region. Untold numbers of damaged trees were removed from driveways, yards and roofs.
“They were angels,” one resident commented.
Billie Nicholson, Editor