Gladys and I took one our rare vacations last week, up to St. George’s Island, off the coast of Florida’s Panhandle. The barrier islands up there are a bit different from the ones off the Sarasota coast – rolling dunes that look more like the Outer Banks of North Carolina than what we have in Southern Florida. Utterly gorgeous. Now, it doesn’t take a long memory to recall the Panhandle got badly whipped at the end of last year’s hurricane season by Hurricane Michael – Michael was darned near a Category Five storm when he hit, and by most accounts is the strongest sustained-wind storm to hit the American mainland in modern history. I was relieved to know that on St. George’s Island, our friends’ vacation home had nothing more wrong than a few pieces of missing soffit, and that was a fair picture of the state of the Island. In other words, you can safely tell your northern friends thinking about a Florida Panhandle vacation that St. George’s – and, for by far the most part, Apalachicola – are there, in business and welcoming visitors. In fact, PLEASE tell them that. Tourism’s a big part of our economy and when a community needs to recover from a blow, the LAST thing it needs is its tourists staying away and hurting the local economy even more.

That’s the good news – our Panhandle is still a beautiful place to visit. On the other hand, that swath of land that got hit right at the eye of Michael – Mexico Beach, and a few miles to the west – are in ROUGH shape. Take a trip through Mexico Beach, and your heart will break. Recovery there is going to be a long process, and it’s going to take a LOT of help from outside to get it done. For those of us here that had a hard time after Irma less than a year before, we can relate – but until one sees the extent of the near-total destruction that still remains in that stretch of coastal community and inland north into Georgia, one simply cannot fathom the power of that storm. I wanted to take pictures as we drove through, but it felt too much like snapshots of a fatal car wreck. Just … too … painful.

If you’re part of a church group, service club or social organization that helped in the immediate aftermath of Michael, please – don’t forget those folks. They’re got miles to go before they sleep, and still need our help, our political support for disaster recovery aid, AND our prayers.

The cameras and TV standups are gone now, and it’s real easy to let something like this slip off the radar screen now that Lester Holt isn’t there showing us pictures. But it’s now that the hard work really begins – when the truckloads of help stop coming, but the family home is still a pile of rubble. Keep ‘em in your prayers. And your pocketbook. They’re our Florida neighbors, and they’re still hurting!