We Lucked Out, Walton County Emergency Management Official Says

Oct 11, 2018
Originally published on October 11, 2018 10:14 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Floridians who rode out Hurricane Michael are waking up to view the devastation that has been left behind. Panama City resident Vance Beu (ph) described the experience as this massive storm came through.

VANCE BEU: It was terrifying, honestly. There was a lot of noise. I mean, we thought the windows were going to break at any time. We had the - we had the inside windows kind of barricaded in with mattresses. I mean, we did whatever we could, just kind of hunkered down and tried to wait it out.

GREENE: Trees were toppled. Roofs were ripped off. Homes literally came off their foundations. At least two people so far that we know of were killed in this storm. I want to turn now to Jeff Goldberg. He's the emergency management director in Walton County, Fla., which is one county over from Panama City, where the voice was that we just heard. Mr. Goldberg, thanks for taking the time for us. I know this must be a rough morning for you guys.

JEFF GOLDBERG: Well, yeah, it's, you know, between trying to get our stuff demobilized - because we did have some shelters open - and then trying to get out there and assist our fellow counties and colleagues that, you know, we're obviously very, very close with.

GREENE: So you're saying demobilized. You had shelters open. Should I take that as good news, that you're able to get people out of shelters and back - and back into their homes this morning?

GOLDBERG: Yeah, absolutely. You know, we we were looking at a landfall somewhere around Panama City, maybe a little bit east, which really would have put a lot of the heavy winds and devastation on our side. We lucked out. We've got some power lines down, some - some trees down, things like that.

We do have people in shelters, special needs, pet-friendly shelters, general population. And those folks are in the process of trying to find out if their homes are OK, which - which they seem to be - and then getting them out and shutting our shelter down. If that storm was about another 10 miles to the east, we would have been facing what Panama City Beach and Bay County were - was facing.

GREENE: And I know these are your neighbors, not far from there. What are you hearing from Bay County at this point about how bad things got?

GOLDBERG: Well, the entire - we're divided up into regions throughout this state, emergency management regions. And ours is 10 counties. The entire east side of our region was dark. We couldn't get ahold of them. And it was tough. You know, there - it's kind of surreal. I spoke to the emergency management chief last night. And they're kind of our sister county. We do a lot of work with them. And we work together and train together. And he described it as surreal - I mean, the resources starting to pour in, the utter devastation that they're going through.

You know, they're dispatching fire engines with cell phones that they can - that they're buying AT&T - AT&T prepaid phones and putting them on emergency vehicles to dispatch because their dispatch center is down. They're getting 911 calls, but they can't talk to their field forces. So we're mobilizing mobile command trailers, mobile dispatch centers to try and help those folks there. And then the other counties that are even east of them that, you know, they're in the same boat.

GREENE: All right.

GOLDBERG: And these are small, rural counties.

GREENE: It sounds like we might not know for some time how bad this was.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, some of the information's starting to come in now. And we're starting to get a good picture of it. And we're - you know, we've got resources coming in from all over the state.

GREENE: All right, well, thanks so much for taking the time for us. Jeff Goldberg, emergency management director of Walton County, Fla. We'll hope for the best for your neighboring county. Thanks a lot.

GOLDBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.