On Oct. 10, 2018, at 2 p.m., the City of Marianna changed forever. Buildings standing firm and tall for centuries were suddenly empty doll-house structures. Monuments honoring military veterans and fallen war heroes were instantly demolished. Every street in town and most homes were covered with huge trees. Communication stopped immediately. Citizens and visitors lost cellular, land line, television, and internet connections. Being approximately 60 miles inland, most locals had lived through many hurricanes. The very worst storms remembered had some wind, random tornadoes, and rain.
Hurricane Michael would defy the odds and make landfall so quickly that no one was prepared. Citizens cleaned off the shelves of the local stores the night before, but most only had supplies that would last a couple of days, which would be more than was usually needed. The four- to six-hour period the eye wall passed over Marianna looked like a blizzard. Seeing past the end of one’s arm was nearly impossible, due to the whiteout conditions. Many ventured out during the middle of the eye only to find the worst of the storm was yet to come. Assistance would only be available after streets were cleared. Two days following the storm, purchasing fuel for a generator meant paying cash and traveling 60 miles or more through dangerous pig-trails of fallen power poles and trees.
How could a small rural town possibly recover from the physical and mental effects of Hurricane Michael? Almost immediately fire and police officers from around the country arrived to assist locals and keep citizens safe. Utility and road crews from everywhere imaginable began helping to clean up and restore electrical services nonstop around the clock. Neighbors helped neighbors recover family and friends trapped within their homes. First responders were sent out as areas became clear. People from all types of relief organizations brought food, clothing, and other supplies to the needy. The community rallied and continued to rally together to help one another, all thankful to have survived Hurricane Michael.
A little over a month later, Marianna continues to heal, but hope floats all around. Businesses are beginning to open.
“ Our roof is open in the back and front, and we have mortar damage” explained Desiree Baggett, owner of A Wild Hair, “but last week we had a large turnout for a holiday sale called Holly Jolly.”
“ My fuel pumps and awnings were completely destroyed” detailed Mohammed Shahjahan, new owner of Adnam Food Mart, “but the convenience store is open and busy.”
Maranda Hartman, new owner of the Waffle Iron, clarified how she had lost the entire dining room of her restaurant, “but since the kitchen was untouched, we set up tents with heaters behind the building for a temporary dining area until after Christmas.” Maranda also told how she was thankful for the birth of her first grandson, Eli, the night before Hurricane Michael arrived.
Luke Shores, owner of Cobb Front-End and Cobb’s 2 shared how their business was closed approximately two weeks and today internet services had finally been restored enabling the business to process credit cards. “We have been blessed and prayers have been answered that business is returning” Luke stated.
Gus and Fran Peace are awaiting repairs at Gus No Fuss Pool Service, “but we boarded up the windows and went back to work,” stated Fran.
Sissy Woodall, owner of Living Life Repurposed, shared how she had quite a bit of damage, but another business, Lemon Squeeze, was allowing her to display seven Christmas trees to sell special Christmas ornaments until her building could be repaired in 2019.
Terry Owens was glad to describe that a portion of the roof would need replacing, but two weeks ago they had begun opening one room at a time in his gallery of eclectic collections.
Suzanne Owens, manager of Be Spoken, expressed how one window was boarded up, but the other was full of Christmas displays to provide hope for the community.
Art and Michele Tabor Kimbrough shared how the roof was removed from Michele’s studio and placed atop the Art Factory Gallery, but the gallery would be open by appointment only during the holidays.
Finally, Chuck Smith, owner of Smith and Smith Jewelers, was pleased to tell that he was already working on some customized Christmas and hurricane jewelry designs.
Much like a classic children’s story, the citizens, whether tall or small, are singing and preparing for Christmas. As it turns out, it’s not the things in the world that mean the most, but the hearts of those who share their all.
Come visit Marianna and support the recovery. Visit the City of Marianna’s website to learn more about new and existing businesses.
Kay Dennis is municipal development director for the City of Marianna, Florida.